JEREMY CLACKSON, our transport correspondent, on how Croydon South’s Member of Parliament has stalled on a campaign that ignores the safety of his constituents
No sooner had Transport for London announced the decision to refuse to renew digital taxi firm Uber’s operating licence in London than Croydon South’s Tory MP and self-proclaimed entrepreneurial expert Chris Philp was throwing himself in front of any passing television camera to pronounce on the subject.
For media tart Philp, this was not a matter of what was best for London or his constituents, but just the latest opportunity to try to score petty political points at the expense of Labour’s London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Yet less than 24 hours after Philp had smeared himself over BBC London’s regional politics TV show on Sunday morning, a comprehensive apology for its illegal business practices, issued by Uber’s chief executive, exposed Croydon South’s MP’s position as untenable.
TfL said on Friday that Uber was not a “fit and proper” private car-hire operator and cited four areas of concern, including its approach to reporting criminal offences and carrying out background checks on drivers.
Yesterday, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new CEO, wrote in an open letter: “While Uber has revolutionised the way people move in cities around the world, it’s equally true that we’ve got things wrong along the way. On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologise for the mistakes we’ve made.
“We will appeal the decision on behalf of millions of Londoners, but we do so with the knowledge that we must also change.”
Uber’s London licence expires on Saturday, although it will continue to run taxis while it pursues a legal appeal process that could last a year. Mayor Khan’s willingness to hold talks with the company could short-circuit that process.
Philp’s opposition to the cancellation of Uber’s operating rights was made to look all the more ridiculous when it was highlighted that just three months ago there was a unanimous vote by all of London Assembly Members – including Philp’s Tory colleague “Silent Steve” O’Connell – calling for the licence to be withdrawn.
Had Philp not spoken to O’Connell before making his wild accusations against the elected Mayor and contradicting the decision of the Assembly Members?
Or was it just the latest instance of the Croydon MP failing to engage brain before opening mouth, for another cheap chance of appearing on the telly box?
Of course, there may be some element of vested interest here for Philp, just as there is with his pal, the Evening Standard‘s trainee editor, Gideon Osborne. Uber is substantially backed by squillions of investment from Goldman Sachs, as well as backing from fund manager BlackRock.
Osborne is paid £650,000 a year by BlackRock for working four days a month as an adviser. BlackRock has a stake in Uber worth an estimated £500million. None of this was declared by the Standard on Friday, when it ran a front-page report on the Uber licensing issue.
Philp may not have any pecuniary interests in Uber. He certainly hasn’t declared any. But then, the Tory MP has also refused to publish his tax returns, making his income from various business interests in property and investment firms impossible to measure. Perhaps Philp and Uber just share the same interests in off-shoring tax liabilities?
Even the smallest slice of shared business interests in Uber will expose Philp as a crass hypocrite, among other things. Philp had to audacity to publish a piece on his MP’s website claiming that the withdrawal of Uber’s licence – a decision taken by TfL, and not directly done by Sadiq Khan – “proves that he is not a Mayor for all Londoners but is captive to special interests”.
Philp’s statement, in common with many Tories’ knee-jerk reactions to the decision, demonstrated a preference to save themselves a few bob, rather than ensure the highest standards of public transport regulation by insisting – as the Metropolitan Police has done – that cab drivers should be subject to proper criminal record checks. This was something Uber has so far refused to do. But then the Conservatives long ago abandoned any pretence to being the party of law and order – ask any serving police officer.
All this, though, as far as Philp was concerned in his petty point-scoring politicking, was unimportant. “The internet is pushing for freedom of choice but we have yet another example of how Labour is against the consumer and only have the best intentions of their union paymasters in mind,” Philp lied.
Philp’s other argument, that the decision was “taking away the livelihoods of over 40,000 licensed drivers” was also devious bollocks. Uber’s zero-hours operating model, so beloved of free-market capitalists such as Philp, is widely regarded as exploitative of the drivers, who carry all the commercial risk and effectively are subsidising the company and Goldman Sachs with their under-cutting fare structure.
Not that that bothered Philp in his diatribe against London’s elected Mayor. “It’s important that Sadiq and TfL explain to Uber drivers why they will now be unemployed,” Philp bleated. Except that the drivers are not and have never have been employed by the company. Uber even went to court to prove that point.
Indeed, Uber use that supposed contractual position to swerve paying VAT on the fares charged by drivers (as explained here), something which again allows them to under-cut tax-paying competition, and which deprives the Exchequer of millions of pounds. But hey, what does Philp care?
Given the mea culpa issued yesterday by Uber in an attempt to rescue their London business with the promise to stop breaking the regulations and law, Philp’s own apology for his shameless grandstanding will be eagerly awaited.
Not that we’re holding our breath.
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