The Labour Party - not Team Ken - lost no time alerting me (and everyone else) to Boris Johnson's interview with Tim Donovan on the London bit of the Politics Show this morning. Its press office provided a transcript of what it called "the car crash that was Boris Johnson's attempt to stand up his bus costings." I've just watched it online (from about 30 minutes in, after Jon Sopel has grilled the three main candidates) and have to conclude that the "new Routemaster" plan is, if not a complete write-off, then might be best re-filed - to recall an old retreat strategy - as an aspiration rather than a pledge.
After consistently refusing to put a price on the whole scheme Johnson has recently started mentioning the figure of £100 million, as in this interview with ePolitix:
Question: Have you properly costed your spending commitments? Johnson: We have completely costed the commitment to spend £100m on a new generation Routemaster and I challenge the Labour mayor to come up with figure for his 500 hybrid buses and I challenge ePolitix to winkle it out of him.
He's begun doing this since he let slip the figure to that undercover citizen journalist last week and it's hard not to suspect that the two things are related. He did so again with Donovan, once more adding that the expense would be much the same as Livingstone's planned hybrids. But when Donovan pressed him, the vagueness of the costing's basis was exposed. Was the £100 million for the buses only or for staffing them too? Did it include pay for conductors and the additional drivers that would be required, given that double deckers can carry fewer passengers? Johnson didn't answer and then revived his old line about it being impossible to price for a bus that had yet to be invented, thereby undermining the validity of the £100 million figure still further.
This one isn't going to go away. Had Johnson restricted his pledge to phasing conductors back in on a modest initial scale and spoken of a general wish to phase bendys out, the policy, though less eye-catching, would at least have seemed plausible as well as attractive (including to me). Now it's looking like a liability.