This week I attended People’s Question Time with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, plus assorted members of the London Assembly www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/assembly Basically it’s a chance for members of the public to ask questions about the issues that really matter to them. The questions were divided into four broad themes; the ones which concern every Londoner; crime, transport, the forthcoming Olympics, and the environment, plus time at the end for questions on other topics.
As you may or may not know, Boris, or ‘Bo Jo’ as he is sometimes known, is an undeniably charismatic figure. However, opinion is divided as to whether or not this is his only strength. Personally, I quite like him but after seeing his performance in Battersea Arts Centre the other night I couldn’t help wondering whether his ability to entertain concealed a lack of grasp of the actual facts and figures. Still, it can’t be easy to respond to so many challenging audience questions on the spot. It must be even more stressful than teaching!
We learnt some interesting things, although Boris gave everything a very positive spin. For example he told us that London has a falling crime rate and a low level of crime compared to similar cities. There is also more manufacturing here than people often think; apparently London is currently exporting cake to France, bicycles to Holland and television antenna to China – although Boris failed to tell us in what quantities!
One audience member asked what the London Assembly was going to do about traffic accidents involving rickshaws and bicycles. If you’ve ever been out in the West End you’ll know that rickshaws are a popular and fun way to get around for tourists and revellers. Unfortunately they are not so popular with other road users! One Assembly Member (AM) went so far as to say that he was trying to get them banned in his area. I think he should lighten up – some of my best nights out in London have involved rickshaws! Now, in terms of bicycles, every Londoner knows that Boris loves to champion cycling. He took the chance to sing the praises of his ‘cycle superhighway’ comparing it to ‘a magic blue carpet ride’. You might have seen it – it’s the blue cycle lane which links South London to the City. This blue lane is one of the ways that London is trying to become greener but I don’t think it will balance out the extra pollution caused by Boris’s planned new airport on ‘Boris Island’.
Several disabled Londoners complained angrily about the lack of access or help for them on London’s transport system. I always thought that London had quite good provision for the disabled but that opened my eyes to the fact that there is still a long way to go. And predictably, the fact that we have one of the highest transport prices in the world also cropped up.
On another topic, you may have heard something about the Royal Wedding and we heard from one Clapham councillor that many residents of the area are unhappy at plans to turn Clapham Common (www.claphamcommon.org) into ‘a giant campsite’ during the wedding. This was news to most of the people at Question Time, and who knows, it might turn out to be just a rumour. But watch this space if you fancy camping out to see the Royal wedding!
Talking of big events, it seems as if after several years of preparation the Olympics is finally in sight! We wanted to know if, as Londoners, we would receive preferential treatment in getting tickets for events. The reply we received from Boris was ‘I’m afraid the answer is… not really!’ We also discovered that 240 000 people have already volunteered for the Olympics. According to Boris, these ‘London Ambassadors’ will be ‘well turned out, speaking loads of languages… or, even if you don’t speak loads of languages it doesn’t matter’. Which perhaps sums up the British attitude to foreigners – welcoming but generally monolingual!
As we left I felt that I’d experienced an interesting evening witnessing democracy in action. My partner, however, felt differently. On being briefly interviewed by an LBC reporter, his verdict was that the whole thing had been ‘a complete waste of time!’
If you’d like to hear this latest People’s Question Time you can download a free podcast from the LBC website: www.lbc.co.uk/boris-answers-londoners-questions---free-podcast-6291
I’d love to know whether you think it sounds useful, entertaining, or just a waste of time!
charismatic (adj.) - having a strong and interesting personality
forthcoming (adj.) - happening in the near future
to give everything a very positive spin (exp.) - to only present the positive aspects of something
rickshaw (n.) - a bicycle taxi
revellers (n.) - partygoers. Often used jokingly.
to lighten up (phr.v.) - to stop worrying
to champion stg (v.) - to strongly support something
to crop up (phr.v.) - to happen, perhaps unexpectedly
well turned out (exp.) - to be smartly dressed