But Livingstone knew all the tricks. He claimed he had ‘discovered’ a vast mountain of cash that TfL had been sitting on and not using. He pointed to official figures apparently showing there was a £700m-odd ‘surplus’ in the TfL accounts that he would now use to cut fares by 5%. This number was the so-called ‘operating surplus’ – the difference between what TfL thought they would spend on running the system and what they actually did, combined with the difference between what they thought they would get in fare revenue and what they actually did.
Livingstone knew very well that this ‘surplus’ had existed for years, particularly when he was Mayor. He also knew that it was allocated to investment projects, just like it was when he was Mayor. It was money that appeared spare, but was in fact earmarked for things that would improve the system. It was why he never once used it to cut fares himself.
It was a common tactic to claim this was ‘unspent’ money, just as the Conservatives on the London Assembly had tried in 2007. Back then, Mayor Ken explained why it couldn’t be used:
“There has been some fascinating speculation in the press that I have a £500 million slush fund that I can spend between now and the election. You know me; if I had it I would, but I do not. There is the small matter of the need for TfL to balance its budget in law, and the balances we carry are all allocated against the range of projects coming forward.28”
Moreover, Livingstone was equally clear about the choice between cutting fares and cutting investment. When it was proposed he use this money to fund fare cuts in 2007, he replied:
“That is fine as long as it also has the honesty to go on and say what I should cut whilst cutting the fare increase.29”
In the heat of an election campaign, these fine distinctions were irrelevant and Livingstone knew it. It was a simple calculation. Voters would understand a proposal to cut their cost of living a lot better than a complicated argument about surpluses and allocated investment. And people were feeling the squeeze, so much so they were more than willing to accept a cut to future investment if it meant immediate relief.
November and December 2011 saw Ken wage a guerrilla campaign against Boris, using every opportunity to justify and re-enforce his policy. He suddenly had his compelling offer, and it would prove to be almost irresistible to voters. It would put us in an awkward position.
Another behind the scenes revelation from "Victory in London - the inside story of hte Boris campaign"