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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: KEN LIVINGSTONE MP MAYOR OF LONDON SEPTEMBER 15th, 2002
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: And now we heard the man who would be king earlier on, Tony Banks, and now the man himself the Mayor of London is here, Ken Livingstone.
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Good morning David.
DAVID FROST: Morning Ken, a response to what Tony Banks had to say?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I, I was interested, he's clearly learnt the lesson of the last Labour campaign, that vicious personal attacks didn't play well and he stuck to policy issues. The only thing that struck me was that in all the thousands of letters I had about congestion charging before I decided to go ahead he didn't, he wasn't one of those who made representations not to do so. And so I'm surprised he's come out against it now.
DAVID FROST: Well he says he'll carry on with it reluctantly if it works. You said by the end of the Easter break, April the 21st, if it wasn't working by then, having started on the 17th of February I think we would see it as having failed, so you're going to give it sort of about 60 days are you?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Yes there'll be, I mean this is providing the contract doesn't slip, I mean it's a huge IT contract and often they do. If it comes in in mid-February and it isn't working by the end of Easter one would have to say this clearly has failed and given no one's done this anywhere else in the world on this scale before you can't be certain it will work. On paper it looks like the best available means to tackle congestion, if it doesn't I mean I'm not going to be one of those idiot politicians who carries on saying, it's working, it's working, you just aren't appreciating it, or it's the audiences fault the play was great but the audience didn't appreciate it or something.
DAVID FROST: What would have been your second choice, what would you do if it fails?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I mean no one has come up with a second choice, I mean there's lots of ways of raising money, I mean car park taxes and things like that but the only one that was really targeted to reduce congestion was this and really, I mean basic transport ministries around the world are waiting to see if this works. I have a stream of mayors who come to me and say we're all waiting to see if it works then we'll do it, you know. But nobody has wanted to be the first and I, I mean if the situation in London wasn't so bad I'd wait for someone else to do it as well but I would have thought, if you look around London of the Western cities traffic congestion is just about the worst here of anywhere.
DAVID FROST: But it means, if it works it's heroic to be the first and if it doesn't work then you will have incautiously or rashly ruined London?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I'm sure I will be told about the cost of it all if it doesn't work. If it does work of course everyone will say oh I was always in favour of it, you know I just didn't say so at the time. I mean literally, I mean I asked an economist about five years ago predicted it would be done in about six cities within two years, none of them have done it and the only reason for not doing it is the political risk. But if you actually try and get round London, I mean I'm born and brought up in this city, it has never been as bad, I know there is a great Evening Standard campaign it's all my fault, I changed the traffic lights... that isn't true actually. It is progressively getting worse year by year by year.
DAVID FROST: The traffic light thing isn't true?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: No what we did we changed 57 sets of traffic lights around Trafalgar Square whilst we do the pedestrianisation. By Christmas they will all be switched back to the phasing they had before so people will see by then what the real scale of...of just how bad London is.
DAVID FROST: How do you respond to that story today in the paper that the United States Embassy and other Embassies are protesting because they say that the Vienna Convention says you can't tax foreign nationals?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Yes but this isn't a tax and that's quite clear, it is road pricing and if the American Ambassador wants to go and see Star Wars part three next year in Piccadilly Circus he will pay twice what he pays if he goes to see it at Staples Corner. And what we're simply saying is you want to do anything, you have a meal in central London it costs more than it does in Bromley, I mean everything costs more, why, the only thing that isn't reflecting that is road space so what we end up with is taxing it by queuing, I mean it's almost like the old Stalinist regime, I mean everything's the same price, it's all free but you've got to die of old age in the queue. And basically half the time a driver is in central London they are stalled in a jam.
DAVID FROST: How exactly would the £130 million or whatever be spent?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well there're several options, one I'm looking at is to say that we should go to half fares for everybody under 18. At the moment you get to 16 you start paying adult fares and most 16 to 18-year-olds are in school or college now and that's a burden and at the same time, as you're trying to discourage parents driving their kids to school you want to encourage them to use public transport. So that's basically at the top of the list. The rest would be to continue expanding the bus service, we've got 18 per cent more people on the buses than when I was elected now. We've got 11 new night bus routes, another nine to come in in the next six months, it's all costing a lot of money. But people notice the bus system is getting better, put it in perspective, three million journeys on the tube each day but four and a half million on the buses so the majority of Londoners the bus is how they get around.
DAVID FROST: And how many people would you hope give up cars in 2002 some people have said 20,000 a day who would then have to be serviced on the tube and the rail and also buses?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: We're assuming about 20,000, that's about 15 per cent of the people that drive in and that would mean in the peak rush hour about another 7,000 on the buses and so we're putting on about, almost twice that number of extra places on the buses, 430 new buses on the streets before congestion charge comes in.
DAVID FROST: And at the age of 57 are you? You've decided to learn to drive, now is this...
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well now can I say this is a wonderful story but like so many it sadly isn't true. I might get round to it at some point, I mean.
DAVID FROST: Oh sadness, sadness, because everybody, we were all having fun saying was it to show he's not really anti-car like we...
KEN LIVINGSTONE: My press office said they had more phone calls about that story than anything else since I was elected Mayor.
DAVID FROST: Really, but the other thing they said was it was to prepare for being a father one account said, that you'd said?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well obviously I mean if you've got a young family I mean you often find it a lot easier with the car and most Londoners, they don't drive into central London to work they use their car at the weekends for getting the family round which makes sense. I'm not ruling it out but I mean I promise you I hadn't booked any lessons anywhere...I'm sure the entire media will be there as I stagger off down the road running into the back of somebody else's car.
DAVID FROST: Well if you're not learning to drive because you're becoming a father how will it change your life, you're famous for working, you know workaholic hours, 20 hours, you're going to have to cut back a bit aren't you?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: ...other things have to be phased out, I mean and you've got to concentrate on that so it'll be a huge change of my lifestyle. I've no doubt...I'll end up sleeping longer hours because of the pressures and all those demands.
DAVID FROST: And what about that party story, you, that's faded away, do you feel you were vindicated or that it is a cloud over your head?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: No I mean basically it was never resolved, I mean you have a party where people claim, I mean different things at what happened at 1.30 in the morning. But I mean it's largely...I mean the point I made was that, I mean given that I've been in the public eye for...under scrutiny for 20 years there's never been any suggestion I've been involved in anything violent and you only have to look at my physique to realise that pugilistic skills aren't at the top of my list of abilities. Given it was so contrary to everything people perceive of me, I mean I think most people tended to discount it, particularly when they couldn't get the height of the wall right.
DAVID FROST: Couldn't they?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh they claim it was 15 feet and I went an measured it and it turned out to be ten.
DAVID FROST: People thought it was the death knell of your chances at the time but you would have to say looking at it today that it does seem to be fate, though I suppose your opponents may raise it again?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: I suspect they may hear it, I mean the poll that came out this week I thought was quite remarkable, I mean it showed broadly the positions the same as two years ago at the election.
DAVID FROST: It said, it said that you dropped a bit in competence and moderation?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: I think not surprising, I have had six months of unrelenting criticism from mainly the Standard and the Mail. First the party then this traffic lights nonsense. But the reality is that either my policies on traffic will work and people will see it for themselves, if the papers are telling me it hasn't worked but they think it has they're not going to believe the papers. So if the policies work I'll be judged on them, if they don't people will get themselves a new Mayor.
DAVID FROST: Could you survive having to cancel the congestion charges after Easter, could you survive?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: I mean I think the fact that policies have been tried, it didn't work and I admit it, I think people will die of shock that politicians have actually admitted they were wrong.
DAVID FROST: That may be true.
[BREAK FOR NEWS[
DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Moira, thank you to all of our guests, thank you Ken very much for being here this morning. Thank you above all for watching, for now top of the morning good morning.
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