Sometimes it is not those who make the most noise, but those who stay silent, who show the world their guilt, and nowhere moreso than in the aftermath of the latest revelations on the relationship between driver and rider matching service Uber and Downing Street. While the realisation of past wrongdoing has been reported elsewhere, one pillar of the London media has not said a peep. That would be the Evening Standard.
The Standard shilled - twice - for formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who shamelessly courted the capital’s cab trade before washing his hands of it and selling it down the river. The paper was all for Johnson’s intended successor Zac Goldsmith, who fought a disgraceful and divisive election campaign in 2016. And it was all for Uber, ignoring all the downsides until it was too late.
But now we know so much more about the rank illegality of Uber’s operations, and that this was known in late 2013, all is changed. And what put the Standard on the spot - although few may have realised it - were current Mayor Sadiq Khan’s comments this week, which were faithfully reported by freesheet City AM, itself a former Uber cheerleader.
Khan’s address to the South By South West festival in Austin, TX, included this assertion: “I’m saying to technology companies: don’t be scared of cities that want you to play by the rules, you should embrace it … Otherwise you have more and more examples like Germany, which have legislated much to the discomfort of social media companies”.
Translation: we welcome new tech companies, but we also have rules. Come and play by those rules and you’ll be fine, don’t and you won’t. And look at Germany to see what can happen when you don’t play by the rules - it’s self defeating.
Khan also talks in terms not only of not giving the likes of Uber special treatment, but also of a future without the company: he “says all companies will be treated the same ‘no matter how many lawyers you hire, or PRs you have’ … Ultimately, Khan is convinced that Londoners will survive without Uber because a new ride-hailing app will emerge”.
Translation: if Uber will not play by the rules, someone else will. And Khan said this, which is why it’s not in the Standard: “It shows the difference of having a strong mayor on Londoners has, rather than this situation where you’ve got a chumocracy, when people bend over backwards to the extent they fall over to try and entice companies that aren't playing by the rules”. There is only one person in London’s media that is aimed at.
Step forward the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, and now editor of the Evening Standard. Osborne was one of those in Downing Street cheering for Uber, and at the very least standing back and doing nothing while modern day robber baron Travis Kalanick and his pals brought mayhem to central London.
The Standard doesn’t like Sadiq Khan anyway. But when the Mayor spells it out like that, he won’t even get reported by the paper. It’s a matter of, shall we say, some sensitivity.
In the meantime, the cab trade has its own opportunity: to get its own tech act together and show it can out-app the competition. And that means one thing: nobody behaving like the People’s Front of Judea. Hint.