On Ads: Who will be the black cab drivers bogeyman, now Kens come good?

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The Independent Online

How does Ken do it? At a recent Editorial Intelligence panel discussion on the London mayoral context clever commentariat panellists ranged from left to right, smart Cass Business School setting four of the six people on the platform seemed to be supporting Ken. Or at least thinking he was inevitable and the least worst devil you know. And they were dissing Boris: the right-wingers were saying he wasn't one for close work, and the lefties that he was offensive to minorities.

I'd rather assumed Boris had charmed a fair swathe of Londoners and that it was all up for grabs. But Ken is persuasive. He delivers fantastically rational actually reasonable responses to everything they throw at him. He doesn't lose it.

And he always delivers the killer punch you want to see land, even when, on any rational basis, you prefer his opponent. I've seen Ken address tired, drunk, Tory-loving businessmen at dinners in London hotels. They've been precisely the people who'd hate him on principle for his history, his alignments, his funny friends and absolutely everything about his famous Old Left sympathies. But he has wowed them every time.

But over the years, the group that's hated Ken most intensely has been London taxi drivers. Black cab blokes find against him on practically all counts. His convenient as they see it Arabism, his support for the Palestinians, his vote-winning multiculturalism. What's not to dislike, they're always telling me. And he works in that extraordinary Norman Foster building. Isn't that enough?

But his worst association by far, for them, is with the congestion charge and its impacts on tailbacks and traffic lights. In the Mall, for instance, the traffic lights at the Trafalgar Square end work maddeningly slowly. They let cars through three at a time. Taxi drivers are to a man convinced that this is Ken's own doing that he's been up there with a screwdriver and some fuse wire. They're convinced he hates them. Of course they're just that bit Right-leaning and small business sympathetic some of them. And, of course, they're not really a crucial voting group (except in a few outer Essex townships), so he probably feels he can afford to make an enemy of them. But it's still a fascinating stand-off, a nuanced thing of North London against East, or poly-hippies against Old London artisans to say nothing of the warring dress codes.

I hear it all I'm in London black cabs criss-crossing the centre four or five times a day. The last thing was Ken's trip to India to secure lots of lovely Indian New Money as Inward Investment for London. But the cab drivers profoundly suspected he was both skiving and courting the ethnic vote.

But now amazingly he's backing (with Transport for London and the Met police) something they should like: a TV commercial warning against dodgy unlicensed minicabs. The black cab trade hates minicabs, but particularly those that solicit you illegally in the street. The West End is full of them now and they look like dangerous rust-buckets with dodgy drivers. (But small-hours-late and desperate with no cabs around, eventually someone will agree 15 to Camden Town and lean back against the torn vinyl.) This particular commercial really goes for it because it's warning party-loving single girls that these drivers could be rapists.

So there's this senior HR-manager type, early 30s, talking away on her mobile in her lightly accented Irish middle-class way about the party being great and getting a cab in the street. Then she's being driven through a menacing-looking underpass ("excuse me, where are we going?") to the big bleak open space in front of an underclass estate.

And then the crane shot's climbing up and away in just 40 seconds, they've unambiguously set up something that would take television for ever and the voiceover is warning that it's not legal and it's not safe. It's enough to put London's women off minicabs for life, which should leave my black cab friends very conflicted.

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