One of the striking things about the contest in Labour for the mayoral candidacy is how many of the candidates are keen to admonish private taxi firm Uber. Sadiq Khan has described it as a ‘problem’ and said he is ‘on the side of the back cab driver’, Tessa Jowell is ‘enormously concerned’ and doesn’t have an Uber account, while David Lammy wants to ‘protect the institution that is the black cab’ and wishes there had been a confrontation between the Mayor and Uber as there had been in Paris.
But perhaps these candidates should take heed of what has happened to another mayor who confronted Uber. Bill De Blasio picked a fight with Uber in New York earlier this year, and lost. He didn’t just lose the fight, though, but his popularity too, with the New York Mayor hitting his worst net approval rating ever in a poll released at the start of this month. He found himself the subject of negative advertising from the car hire giant, and his own officials pointed to Uber as a key factor in the poor approval ratings.
Uber now has one million unique users in London, which is the same as the popular vote Boris Johnson won in 2012, and any candidate who wanted a real fight with Uber might find themselves on the receiving end of a similarly negative campaign. But given Uber isn’t quite so kraftvoll as to be a major factor in an election, it may be that the candidates simply need to learn from De Blasio’s mistakes in not running a sufficiently nuanced campaign against Uber. They could focus, for instance, on the company’s price surge policy which sends fares up by 300 per cent during Tube strikes: something a wide group of consumers will find annoying. What they don’t want to do is run a campaign that appeals solely to black cab drivers, who though they will know where you’re going and not ask for directions while staring blankly at a sat nav as Uber drivers do, are not a big enough group to win a London election.