It is very rare for London politics to take on the qualities of an Indiana Jones movie, and even less plausible that our beloved Mayor should find himself playing the lead role. However, as the Mayor announced plans to run the tube for 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays from 2015 last week, the stars aligned and the deeply improbable became possible, albeit with considerable dramatic licence. There are, thankfully, no bungling henchmen and the Temple of Doom may have been replaced with Piccadilly Circus Tube Station (no less dark, dank and rat-infested) but nonetheless the key elements of the franchise are there.
Firstly, the story centres around an ancient treasure – in this case, London’s tube network. Celebrating its 150th birthday this year, the London Underground is the world’s oldest subterranean public railway. Now comprising 270 stations, over 400km of track and a ridership of 1.25billion a year, it is a bit bigger than the Ark of the Covenant or a golden idol, not quite as old, but just as priceless.
Secondly, we have damsels in distress. In the Spielberg films this role is invariably filled by a woman who is thrown into a series of rat/ insect/ snake infested pits with Jones. For our new chapter in the franchise we have thousands of women (and men, other party goers, shift workers and general participants in London’s nightlife), saved by our hero ‘Indiana Johnson’ from the perils of high taxi fares, a long walk home or an uncomfortable journey sat next to a weirdo on the N19 to Finsbury Park. Publicans, night club owners, kebab vendors and a host of other businesses will also benefit as the cash registers of the West End – not to mention the TfL fare box – ring long into the night, simultaneously fuelled by and fuelling the economic recovery. Gosh, isn’t our blonde hero amazing? He even saves the London taxpayer £270m in salary costs by closing the ticket offices at all but 7 of London’s underground stations.
Thirdly, there is a militant brotherhood sworn to defend antediluvian traditions. In The Temple of Doom it is a Kali-worshipping Thuggee cult, in The Last Crusade it is the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword that protect the secret location of the Holy Grail. In our little tale it is of course the RMT union, who are already planning to ballot on a week-long strike at the height of the pre-Christmas rush in opposition to the planned job losses. This is despite assurances from London Underground Managing Director Mike Brown that all job losses will be achieved through voluntary early retirement, natural wastage and deleting existing unfilled vacancies.
Fourthly, our story features an elaborate trap to ensnare would be tomb raiders and grave robbers. The giant boulder rolling down a corridor in this epic quest, however, has been set by our buccaneering hero and will be chasing Labour’s jostling would-be Mayors. Because the Mayor has packaged longer running and ticket office closures together, Labour will struggle to oppose the ticket station closures without looking like killjoys and party poopers, determined to sentence young, fun-loving Londoners to the horrors of the night bus. When the RMT union strikes over these changes (as they surely will), Labour’s many mayoral hopefuls will be forced to choose between backing strikes – costing the London economy millions and inconveniencing commuters – or endorsing the Mayor’s position. Some of Labour’s aspiring Mayors will probably join the picket lines whilst others will very publicly stay away, exposing deep divisions within the party. Opposing the ticket office closures also risks revealing the party’s own hypocrisy on the issue (no less blatant than Boris’s own volte-face over the same subject) with Ken Livingstone having planned to close 40 ticket offices when Mayor. And all this will come to a head in early 2015, just weeks away from a General Election. Queue theme music….
And finally, with a single crack of his whip, Boris has also created the possibility of his own sequel. This latest wheeze is not only hugely popular but also, uncharacteristically for the Mayor, helpful for the Conservative leadership in Westminster, delivering good news at exactly the right time in the election cycle. Improved relations between City Hall, Downing Street and the Chancellor – not to mention a populist flourish with voters in the capital – could Boris be thinking of a third run for Mayor in 2016? Let’s hope it is more Last Crusade than Kingdom of the Chrystal Skull…..