Sir Peter Hendy

MQT on 2014-10-22
Session date: 
October 22, 2014
Question By: 
Richard Tracey
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Were you made aware of Sir Peter Hendy's intended newspaper interview remarks regarding potential 'riots' over transport services in London and the level of fares?

Supplementary Questions: 


Answer for Sir Peter Hendy

Answer for Sir Peter Hendy

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Dick, I read Sir Peter’s [Sir Peter Hendy, Commissioner, TfL] interview and I have to say I thought he made a very good point because what he was arguing, which is a point I have made many times myself, is that you need to invest in transport infrastructure.  That was the gist of what Sir Peter was saying.  A fine servant of London he is and indeed a fine advocate of the cause of investing in public transport. 

Richard Tracey AM:  Mr Mayor, it is very kind of you to say that about the Commissioner.  What I am more concerned about is that we have talked about provision of facilities, buses, trains, boats, bikes and all the rest of it, but had he ever mentioned this point about civil unrest to you privately? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  A chap is entitled to reach for a colourful metaphor in the course of an interview with the Guardian.  He was trying in some way to animate a debate and a conversation about investment in transport infrastructure, which does not always get absolutely everybody going.  He needed to get the Guardian to focus on what he was saying - which is not always easy - and he plucked an idea out of the sky. 

His general point was a very good one, which was that London is growing very fast, we have a huge and growing population and we need to invest in transport.  What he was arguing, which is absolutely true, is that with the cost of housing being what it is, you have to be able to move your workforce as quickly and as cheaply as possible from their place of work to where they live and I completely agree. 

Richard Tracey AM:  There is no denying that, but had he ever mentioned to you that it could lead to civil unrest? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  He is not honour-bound to clear every colourful metaphor that he wishes to use.  That is totally absurd.  I am sure he was speaking in a ‑‑ He was trying to grip the attention of his audience and of his readers and he did.  Let us face it; unless you invest properly in this great city, you will have social injustices and you will have people facing real hardship.  His point was very well made. 

Richard Tracey AM:  You will probably recollect, it was on that very spot that he and you were questioned by us in the Plenary Assembly about all the matters of transport and TfL and he never hinted at any point during that session on 10 September that he was fearing civil unrest if there were not various provisions of transport and ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I do not ‑‑ 

Richard Tracey AM:  Could I just finish, Mr Mayor? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Of course, yes. 

Richard Tracey AM:  It seems rather extraordinary that then, on 21 September - which incidentally I think was the beginning of the Labour Party conference week - he gave an interview along these lines to the Guardian. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No.  Peter noticed that his words had been slightly shall we say ‘glammed up’ by the headline writers and he was good enough to tell me spontaneously that the interview was not given, as I think you suspect, in the context of some Labour Party meeting.  He gave the interview over the phone when he was on holiday and he was searching for a metaphor to describe the consequences of a failure to invest in transport.  It was perhaps hyperbolical, but hyperbole is not the worst of sins.  Perhaps it was an exaggeration; however, it was a rhetorical trick to make a point. 

The point is a very good one and it is that you have to invest in transport infrastructure.  Unless you invest in transport infrastructure and unless you enable people to live near their places of work, there will be a risk of hardship and injustice. 

Richard Tracey AM:  On 10 September, we put various points to him ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Do you disagree with that?  It seems common sense to me.  I do not know why this is going on and on. 

Richard Tracey AM:  No, I would not disagree that you have to invest and we have joined you in the past in lobbying the Government for just that. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is the spirit.  Let us unite. 

Richard Tracey AM:  Of course, we shall continue to do so.  However, on 10 September, Sir Peter Hendy was asked about various costings.  We put to him then various Greater London Authority (GLA) Conservatives policies for raising money for TfL and indeed for cutting some of the costs.  He did not say anything then about the potential for civil unrest, did he? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  All I can repeat is that a chap is perfectly entitled in the course of an interview with the Guardian to reach for a metaphor, image or a hyperbolical expression to get over what he is trying to say about the importance of investing in transport without having his words endlessly thereafter crawled over .  I do not think it is a matter of great reproach. 

Actually, as I say, the point he was making is fundamentally valid.  You have to invest in transport to enable good housing to go ahead.  If you fail to have enough good housing that is accessible for people, you will get problems.  Look at what is happening in Hong Kong, which is not exclusively about democracy but also about housing.  Sorry, I am being heckled as usual by my friend Mr Biggs ‑‑

Richard Tracey AM:  You are. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You can only make the places affordable, you can only make them viable, and you can only create the housing if you put in the transport infrastructure.  That is what we are doing.  That is why we are going ahead with all of the schemes that we are. 

Richard Tracey AM:  I do not deny that.  It is the specific timing of this interview.  

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am at a loss, frankly.  What is the conspiracy here?  Why should he not say that? 

Richard Tracey AM:  Partly, as I started, I asked you whether he had ever had this discussion with you privately, which ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We have had endless discussions about the need to invest in transport infrastructure.  Actually, Peter has always made the point to me that it is grossly unjust to expect people to live a long way away from their place of work and to spend huge amounts of time commuting.  That is true.  People need good housing and they need housing that is well connected with the economic centre of this city.  That is why you have to invest in transport.  I fail to see in what way Sir Peter has erred. 

Richard Tracey AM:  Given his position as a public servant, I would say that if an equivalent like a Permanent Secretary in a Government department gave an interview like this without any kind of explanation or discussion with the Secretary of State of that department, it would be severely criticised. 

The other thing, Mr Mayor, is that we felt on this side of the Chamber that this interview appeared on 21 September and that he may have given the interview while he was on holiday but ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I will tell you.  Let me try.  I understand what you are saying.  If I had to read some purpose into what Sir Peter was trying to say, there is obviously always a vanishingly small but theoretical risk that there could be a Labour Government and there is a theoretical risk that there could be a Labour Mayor.  What he is trying to get over is that it has been the policy of previous Labour candidates supported by the party opposite to offer absolutely ludicrous cuts in budgets in the form of fare cuts that they know the city simply cannot afford.  What Sir Peter is trying to argue is that any Labour manifesto, any proposal or any ludicrous ‘Milibandary’ of that kind would be disastrous and would be absolutely against the interests of this city.  He is completely right. 

Richard Tracey AM:  It just seemed to us rather unfortunate that the interview appeared on 21 September, which happened to coincide with the beginning of the Labour Party conference, and then of course the TfL Commissioner was at the conference and was interviewed on the television about this very point.  Do you not think that was all rather unfortunate, given his position as a public servant? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  If I may say so, Dick, I must say that unusually you are belabouring a complete non-point and have done now for quite some time.  I do not see any problem at all.  He was making a perfectly valid point about the need to invest in transport infrastructure in order to deliver the housing developments we all need.  It was a very sensible point and it goes to the heart of the debate about how London needs to grow and expand.  I do not see any problem in him using colourful language to get that message over. 

Richard Tracey AM:  OK.  I will leave it there.  Thank you.