NEWS ANALYSIS: Reputations at stake as the PPP saga continues - London mayor Ken Livingstone and transport guru Bob Kiley's joint court battle against the Treasury has seen reputations rise and fall, says Andy Allen

Just as one high-flying foreign trouble-shooter brought in by New

Labour reflected that with friends like Tony Blair and his Government

you don't really need enemies, so did another.



First Frenchman Pierre-Yves Gerbeau - brought in with more than a twist

of news management to save the Dome - was bemoaning his treatment to

various papers. Then American Bob Kiley - brought in in similar

circumstances to save London's troubled Tube - found himself doing the

same to a wider audience.



There the similarities end. Whereas Gerbeau saw through his project

before becoming disgruntled, Kiley was from the start stifled in trying

to make a difference before being abruptly shunted off stage.



This was never going to be a marriage made in heaven. Kiley's background

as the saviour of the New York subway has given him a reputation as the

world's most successful transport manager. And he was always opposed to

the Government's plans for a public-private-partnership, under which

tube lines are maintained by private contractors while train services

remained under public control.



The former CIA officer makes a curious ally for a man with a distinctly

redder past - London mayor Ken Livingstone. Yet it was Livingstone who

lured Kiley to London in May.



As Kiley's relationship with Blair crumbled, he became more closely

linked with the mayor. Both men regard PPP as dangerous and expensive,

requiring huge levels of public subsidy. Until a month ago, there was a

chance of overcoming differences. But that hope evaporated when Kiley

said talks with PPP bidders were deadlocked and urged the Government to

ditch its scheme. In a rare example of arguments over public policy

uniting those across the political divide, media of all hues have lined

up behind Kiley and Livingstone.



Government PR staff are since reported to have gone into overdrive -

particularly chancellor Gordon Brown's press team, anxious to keep Brown

away from the growing mess.



Goodwill has not been much in evidence since Kiley was toppled as London

Transport chairman (he retains the less powerful role of

commissioner).



When word got out that Kiley was to publish a report attacking PPP, he

was sacked as chairman and an injunction swiftly imposed to stop him

revealing the report's contents. Kiley muttered darkly about a

Government 'smokescreen'.



The sides next met in the High Court, which rejected Livingstone's

challenge to block the PPP, but the PR initiative was moving further

towards Livingstone and Kiley. Almost 300 protestors gathered outside

court to cheer on the defenders of a publicly-funded tube.



The Times transport correspondent Ben Webster recalls sitting behind the

pair in court: 'Kiley and Ken were shoulder to shoulder, even though

they didn't need to be there. It was astute and gave the impression they

were trying to secure justice.' The next day's press was almost entirely

favourable to their cause.



Had the prospect of a legal victory blinded the Government to the battle

for hearts and minds? Litigation PR specialist and Weber Shandwick Legal

MD Jon McLeod thinks not. He points out that Livingstone never had a

credible chance of winning the case and would inevitably benefit in

public opinion terms by evoking memories of wide-scale public investment

in the transport system.



'The Government, on the other hand, had to be fairly minimalist as they

would always be the big bad wolf in the drama,' says McLeod.



And while Livingstone's strategy would appear faultless, McLeod believes

he became 'bogged down' in safety issues and could have made more of the

democratic mandate he received in last year's London mayoral election to

run the transport system.



Webster is not convinced: 'Livingstone has handled it brilliantly. He

knew if it was just left to him to keep talking about public investment

people would ask if this was Red Ken speaking.'



Joy Johnson, the Greater London Authority head of media relations, takes

a different line, pointing out that the democratic arguments have been

well aired by high-profile newspaper columnists in the nationals.

'Looking at the cuttings, it's clear almost everyone shares our view -

precisely because we're speaking the truth,' she says.



A day after the bid to block PPP failed, a High Court judge lifted the

injunction on revealing the contents of the reports into PPP and

criticised London Underground for trying to ban it. The only thing that

stopped Kiley and Livingstone gleefully going public with the report was

a further 21 day ban, as the Government appeals against the

decision.



It raises the prospect of further PR humiliations for Blair - especially

as many observers believe Kiley has no intention of quietly packing up

and standing down as transport commissioner.



'I think Kiley will stay,' says Webster. 'When you hear an American

voice in these reasoned and sober terms, it's easy to be seduced. I

don't think he'll jump at every opportunity to attack the PPP - he'll

choose his moments and the next one will be when we get the report.'



The saga certainly isn't over yet, but as the legal stage of proceedings

seems to have come to an end, the pair who have positioned themselves as

public-spirited questers after safety have emerged strengthened, despite

taking a pounding in the courts.



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