Re-evaluating Boris

19 August 2017, 20:59 | Updated: 19 August 2017, 21:04


Boris Johnson's tenure as Mayor of London was notable for the amount of time that his self-promotion coincided with his promotion of the city he was representing.

He flew from zip wires, stuffed himself into a kiddy's go-cart, rode bicycles with Arnold Schwarzenegger, slammed an innocent ten year old into the ground in a “friendly” rugby game, gurned with Chinese dragons, did the Mo-bot and appeared on the television more often than Fiona Bruce.

You could say that he was spreading the name of London to the world but the world knew about London already.

More likely he was spreading the name of Boris Johnson.

Apart from his vaunting ambition, cleverly cloaked in that bumbling dip-stick act he has perfected, Boris became known for his Grand Projects, or as they are known in France: Grands Projets.

It was French President François Mitterrand who instituted an architectural programme to build modern monuments to delight Parisians in the 1980's.

His achievements include the Louvre Pyramid and the Grand Arche de la Defense.

The buildings and renovations were mostly controversial at the time of construction but have become well loved by residents and tourists alike.

Boris wanted to make his mark in the same vein.

What is the point of being the Mayor if you can't do something grand and visionary?

The most recent of those plans was the building of a garden bridge over the River Thames. It was to be on a stretch of the river that was already well served by crossings but getting from one side to the other was not the point.

The bridge was to be a destination, not a method of linking banks.

The world's hottest designer was brought in to imagine the scheme. Thomas Heatherwick was the man behind the Olympic cauldron for the London Games.

His vision was for a fully planted, traffic-free retreat from the city, right in the heart of the West-End. A place to linger and enjoy some of the great urban views of the world.

The idea has been scrapped by the new mayor Sadiq Khan, citing cost overruns and high maintenance expenses.

This seems a shame. It also makes little sense that something so life-enhancing for the people and visitors to London should be shelved due to money considerations when we think nothing of blowing £167bn on submarine-based weapons of mass destruction.

We have no cash when it comes to improving life but the cheque book is open when it comes to funding the ability to extinguish it.

Boris is currently being criticised for many of the things he tried during his tenure as Mayor.

The replacement for the iconic Routemaster bus came in for much sniping when it had teething problems with air-conditioning and cost more than the double-deckers that are the alternative.

They were a Thomas Heatherwick project as well, and are the only buses designed so far that come close to being as pleasing on the eye as the old ones they are replacing.

That is the problem with making things that look good – they are usually more expensive than those that don't.

Those buses were cancelled by the new Mayor of London as well. Now we can look forward to ever more of those unlovely red boxes that are cheaper but have no art to their design at all.

The most ambitious of Boris' plans was to close Heathrow Airport and site a new airport for London to the East of the city.

Putting it there, in a place only frequented by passing birds and the odd newt, would mean that 650 planes a day would not have to fly over one of the most populated places on earth, with all the pollution and noise and danger that entails.

That was cancelled on cost grounds too.

When the richest woman in the land wants repairs to one of her palaces, no amount of money is too much. When Londoners would like a good night's sleep and would prefer not to die an early death from breathing foul air, then nothing can be done.

Boris Johnson may be a carefully dishevelled galumphing great buffoon with an artfully created cartoon personality but he was right about the airport and he was right about the buses and he was right about the bridge.

It is a shame that the greatest city in the world, in the fifth richest country on earth can't find the money to improve the lives of its citizens.

All of those things would have happened in more enlightened places run by more determined and resourceful people.

For his part, the current mayor, Sadiq Khan, has instituted a scheme to charge Londoners for only one ticket if they take two bus trips within the same hour.

All that after only 15 months in charge.