KEN LIVINGSTONE: Tory Thatcher ethos just will not go away
However much David Cameron may try to persuade us to the contrary, scratch the surface of the Tories and you ll find the hard right Thatcherite agenda has not gone away, and its Neanderthal tendency is increasingly ready to speak out with the low paid and
However much David Cameron may try to persuade us to the contrary, scratch the surface of the Tories and you'll find the hard right Thatcherite agenda has not gone away, and its Neanderthal tendency is increasingly ready to speak out with the low paid and pensioners in its sights.
In an astonishing move on Monday, Conservative members of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority voted against contracts that would ensure payment of the London Living Wage, £7.20 an hour, to cleaners in fire stations and other fire brigade premises. We estimate that a 'living wage' in London is higher than the national minimum wage because of the higher cost of living here - in particular the much higher cost of housing.
North London's shame is that two of the three Tories who blocked paying the living wage to these cleaners were the Assembly members for Barnet and Camden - Brian Coleman - and Brent and Harrow - Bob Blackman. Local people may be surprised to learn that their representatives on the Assembly have such a miserly approach to paying cleaners working in fire stations.
The votes of these Tories meant the fire authority was deadlocked and will now have to decide the issue at a full meeting later this month. This attempt to deny a decent standard of living to low-paid workers was reminiscent of the massive opposition by the Tories to the introduction of the minimum wage in 1999.
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There's now a clear pattern in many debates we are having about policies to reduce the cost of living in the capital. For example the same Assembly members who voted against paying a decent living wage to fire station cleaners are part of a campaign to abolish free bus and tram travel for children - even voting to amend my budget in an attempt to remove the expenditure for young peoples' travel concessions.
And Conservative-led umbrella body representing London's boroughs, 'London Councils', has spent months attempting to undermine and erode the Freedom Pass which guarantees over a million older and disabled Londoners free bus, train and tube travel. They say it's too expensive to fund the scheme so they are calling on the government to abolish my ability to guarantee the concession if there is no agreement on the funding.
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In Camden, one in eight residents has a Freedom Pass, saving them hundreds of pounds a year.
But London Councils argue that the pass is too expensive and that there are no similar concessions outside London.
In fact the differences between the London scheme and the rest of the UK are part of the reason that it is such a success. Often concessionary travel schemes outside London are just limited to bus travel - as opposed to the free bus, tube, tram and train travel scheme older Londoners enjoy. Bringing London into line with the rest of the country would certainly not represent a guarantee of the size and scope of the Freedom Pass - the most generous concessionary scheme in the country.
Pensioners' groups have already spoke out against the threats to the Freedom Pass. You can support it by writing to your MP or Assembly member to ask them to retain my ability to guarantee the pass.
Concessionary travel schemes are good for Londoners, good for the environment and a vital source of support for those most in need. As long as I am Mayor I will continue to speak out in defence of the Freedom Pass and the hundreds of thousands of Londoners who rely on it, and will never allow it to be watered down, undermined or abolished.