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Breakfast with Frost
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: KEN LIVINGSTONE MAYOR OF LONDON FEBRUARY 16th, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well, managing expectations downwards, is one polite way of describing the very famed process that Ken Livingstone's been using in his approach to congestion charges. When the plan was agreed more than a year ago the Mayor said it was the only way to get traffic moving again in the centre of the capital. Now he's reduced that by saying that tomorrow will be a clearly bloody day. With the tube system in an appalling state, the scheme for motorists to buy tickets at post offices abandoned and half of London drivers yet to register, it looks like tomorrow's launch will indeed be a mite difficult. So is Mayor Livingstone still confident about the congestion charges really working? Well here he is this morning, good to have you with us Ken. This is all about you in the Sunday Times today.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: The evil eye.

DAVID FROST: Driving - driving - and your quote "I hate cars, if I ever get any power again I'd ban the lot," Ken Livingstone, June 1989. Is that a true quote?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: It's completely untrue.

DAVID FROST: Is it - completely untrue?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Like all the best quotes, ... it actually I think came from the Tory Party, which is not the most reliable source. I own a car. I mean we use it at weekends - like most Londoners - they use their car at weekends or in the evenings for leisure you don't ... to go to work.

DAVID FROST: What about the story that Ann was referring to about the 43 people, 45 driver who've already been sent fines.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: We plead guilty to this. I mean it was a complete mistake. Someone pressed the wrong button on the computer and the forms went out. So we do know it's going to work - the system - and we've sent letters of apology and I personally would like to apologise over the airways to anybody who did get a bit annoyed to have a fine notice before the scheme comes in. But I think the technology will work, it will just be very difficult as people find their way through it tomorrow. But in every paper today we've got these full page ads so that people can phone in, pay in advance. But my worry is that the second time people do it, it will be fine, they know exactly what to do, the first time they stop, they ask a lot of questions. And I, my one thing I would beg of anyone driving into London tomorrow is pay the congestion charge today, don't try and do it at 8.30 tomorrow on the Edgware Road, with the mobile phone in one hand while you're driving.

DAVID FROST: Was there a case, because of the situation on the Tube at the moment, with the Central line and all of that in addition to the faults of the Tube that are there anyway, was there a case for postponing this when the Central line disaster or mishap occurred?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: We - that was one of the first things we considered and what we came up with actually was it would have been better to advance it because a lot of the people displaced from the Central line are on the buses - we've laid on about 100 extra buses to get people through - and so anything that can improve the traffic flow is crucial now. So, if anything, we would have brought it forward, because it has been horrendous is you're used to the Central line.

DAVID FROST: And what about, among the things, talking, Derek Turner talking about defined a catastrophic failure as total gridlock over the whole inner ring road, over a number of days, in that circumstance there should be a new assessment.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: That would be pretty catastrophic, yes.

DAVID FROST: That would be catastrophic. Do you fear that though?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, I mean if I, if I thought there was even a one per cent chance the system would fail we wouldn't have gone ahead. I think the system, it will settle down, it will be a very bad two or three days to start off with, until people find their way round it. The issue has always been not would the technology work - that we'll eventually get, we'll get right - but the question was would people tolerate it - it's a political question. And I have to say the latest opinion poll we've got, 56 per cent of Londoners support it, 42 per cent against. There's never been an overwhelming majority one way or the other. I think most Londoners, they'd rather it didn't have to happen but they know something's got to be done.

DAVID FROST: What would make you have to abandon it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh if you did have, if the technology failed, if suddenly it didn't work, we'd have to say we apologise, this, this has been a catastrophe. But we don't expect that at all. I mean people, there'll be a bit of congestion on around the edge as people try and find ways of avoiding it. But you can drive all the way round on the ring road, I mean if you insist. The other big -

DAVID FROST: Or if you like going round in circles.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: If you like going round in circles.

DAVID FROST: ... charming countryside to look at.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: But, I mean the other thing in all this is we now have a great big asset in defending ourselves from terrorism because the clarity of the images with these new cameras is you can actually see the face of the driver in the car. So if the police alert us to the fact they are looking for a particular car or a car has been stolen in suspicious circumstances, the police can be alerted within seconds of that car being picked up on screen. I suspect it will mean that what we get is some of the worst villains in Britain will forever drive round central London and won't dare go through it again.

DAVID FROST: And what about the situation, the return Tube fare from you know, outer London into London is up at sort of 4.60 and so on - which is pretty close to the 5. Not much incentive there. Is there a case that you will have to review the prices, either to put them up to persuade people not to come in, or as The Independent says today, to help lower paid workers by putting it down? What do you think will happen to the 5 - how long will at last at 5? And then which way will it go?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I, I would hope that that will be enough. I mean if - as some people have said, Steve Norris has said, everyone's just going to pay it and drive in. I mean if that is the case then you'd have to look at going say to 6. But I mean we set it at the lowest we thought would reduce the traffic coming in - because it's not, this isn't the best way of raising money, it's a very expensive technology we are using and all that, it is to try and reduce congestion.

DAVID FROST: So in two or three years it could well be 10 by then - or you, or would you perhaps make a bigger area, involve a bigger area?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: If it works, it would, we would look at not increasing the charge but doubling the area - going west towards Kensington and east towards Tower Hamlets. But what I'm saying about that is I want to hear whether people want to be included in the zone. At the moment most people around the zone would like to be included in it.

DAVID FROST: And what about the stakes for you - the stakes for drivers and potential gridlock or whatever - but the stakes for you are if this doesn't work you won't be re-elected.

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh I mean if this goes wrong, you won't be interviewing me next year. But that - I mean what's the point of being in politics if you don't do something with the position you're given. Here in London we are just about the worst congested of all the western cities and if, if we didn't do this, in three or four years time you'd be interviewing and saying why haven't you done something about this, now, it is now gridlocked. We've - you've only got to have two inches of snow and London just stops. We are always just one mistake away from gridlock in this city now.

DAVID FROST: What about yesterday's gridlock, you were at the march, you spoke at the march, how damaging is this for Tony Blair electorally, or isn't it?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh I - we were expecting to get half a million and we would have been delighted. And then I got a phone call from the police saying well if you want to say it's a million, Mr Mayor, we wouldn't disagree with that. And I mean, the truth is so many people came we will never know unless someone was taking a photograph from the air and then counted the heads. It was an - I mean it was the biggest political demonstration in the history of this country. I mean I don't think Tony Blair could survive politically if he went along with an American strike without UN approval. My worry now is - I don't think Tony Blair will do that, I think, I mean it's just not possible to do that - and my worry now is that the American government will be able to bribe some of the smaller nations on the Security Council and say we'll write off your debts or we'll give you a big grant for this, and we've got to be very alert so that the vote is not just being bought.

DAVID FROST: What about Labour members who are thinking of leaving the party over this issue - would you recommend they do so?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: No. I mean I'm still trying to get back in the party.

DAVID FROST: You still want to get back in?

KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh yes. I mean at the end of the day the Labour Party, all my life time, has been the vehicle by which ordinary people can have some influence and achieve some changes. It's not perfect but there isn't anything else - we have to make it work.

DAVID FROST: Ken, thank you for being with us, and fingers crossed for all those drivers out there tomorrow.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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