Polly Today

Well, I could climb all over this but it\’s all been done for me (and you) in the comments.

Comparting the Standard\’s circulation with that of the Guardian, quoting Boris on Polly, no, not all suburbs are rich and white, all dealth with there. Just two further things for me to add really:

His congestion charge made London a symbolic beacon for climate policy, as other capital cities flock to study it.

The congestion charge wasn\’t in fact about climate change at all: it was about congestion. And while Ken did introduce it, the origins of the idea are a little different to what Polly might think:

Ken Livingstone once told me he "nicked the congestion charging idea off Milton Friedman". It was typical of the London Mayor\’s chutzpah to boast about purloining policies from the high priest of free market economics.

When I replied that one of the first British economists to argue for congestion charging, in the mid-1960s, was Alan Walters, "Red Ken\’s" smile grew to a grin. Walters, of course, became an economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher – Livingstone\’s political nemesis.

This weekend, the Mayor of London\’s grin must be wider than ever. His congestion charge is celebrating its first birthday amid considerable acclaim. "It has proved even more of a success than I expected," he says. "But it works well – and that\’s why it\’s supported by nearly three quarters of all Londoners."

In an era when most politicians base policy on focus groups, Livingstone showed real guts introducing a £5 charge to drive into central London between 7am and 6.30pm on weekdays. His courage seems to have paid off. Over the past year, traffic entering the charging zone has fallen by 18 per cent, according to a report published last week by Transport for London, the Mayor\’s transport "ministry".

Delays are down by almost a third, with average traffic speeds up by 10 per cent. Each day, the report says, some 65,000 fewer cars clog up the heart of the capital. And bus use is at its highest level since London Transport\’s heyday in the 1950s.

The sensible origins of the scheme of course explain why it was supported by the likes of the ASI:

London\’s congestion charge is based on sound economic principles. Consumers are being made to pay for a scarce resource – road space. Marginal social-cost pricing, as Friedman would call it, recognises that congestion, delays and pollution are a burden on society. And by transferring some of these costs onto motorists, the charge is changing behaviour.

It\’s also true that Polly is indulging in behaviour that would ge3t her fired from a US newspaper. She\’s bashing Boris and applauding Ken: things she of course has every right to do. However, over there they take disclosure a little more seriously. This titbit would probably get her fired: not for doing it, not for writing today\’s article, but for doing the latter without mentioning the former. £7,000 from Ken in a non-competitive tender:

In order to raise the profile of childcare in London and to publicise my London Childcare Strategy, I have agreed to commission Polly Toynbee to draft an article in an accessible style setting out the key issues.

Given her respected knowledge and expertise I have agreed not to seek any other verbal quotes from other potential contributors. Polly Toynbee\’s book Hard Work: Life in low-pay Britain published in January 2003 is an important study of poverty and exclusion in contemporary London. In addition to this, she has written on the subject for a number of years. The estimated cost of the article will be £7000.

Tsk, Tsk.

2 thoughts on “Polly Today”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    In fairness to Polly (and there’s a half sentence I never thought I’d say) 7000 quid is unlikely to sway her judgement. I am sure if you turned her couch upside down and gave it a good shake, that much loose change would fall out. What do they pay their star New Labour supporting correspodent? We are talking about less than 5 percent of her annual salary you think?

  2. Heh-Singapore has had a “congestion” charge system since the mid-90’s with windshield stickers for auto-scanning and one-day stickers available at convienence stores. Its hours were mid-morning to early evening. Was always a hoot to see lines of cars sitting along the berm waiting for the time to change before passing the scanning locations.

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