Yet More Bad Boris
This just in: ‘Boris Johnson’s office said that since he was elected, the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal limits had halved.’ It doesn’t say whether this is because he’s killed them or they’ve had to move to cleaner areas. The row is over new figures just out pointing to Oxford Street as the most polluted place on earth in the history of mankind, in terms of both hourly and annual mean. Yes, we have higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide than anywhere else. If Boris had followed through on the emergency plans he proposed in 2010 instead of dropping them, then vulnerable Londoners would have been better protected during the recent high levels of pollution. And it can only get worse as the city is transformed into an even bigger building site by property developers taking advantage of newly relaxed rules.
Most of us only encounter the effects of London’s mayors from a distance. Londoners used to irrationally hate Ken Livingstone without direct reason. I can think of two local positives for which he was responsible; a natural park he fought to establish in my neighbourhood and the improvement of the riverside, which had no wheelchair access anywhere and was dangerous to walk along at night.
The thrill my mobility-challenged mother experienced, being able to move along the South Bank, in and out of all the shops and attractions, stayed with her for years. An I was happy to be able to walk around London feeling safer. Oh, and he got us using buses to alleviate crowding on the tube, which was a first for me.
So I look at Boris Johnson and try to see the same positives; the bikes, and the removal of guard rails from London streets, the return of platform buses – a mixed blessing perhaps, given their soaring temperatures in summer.
But there are the painful negatives; the useless cable car nobody wanted, the tube system that’s still a mess, 2,000 fewer police on the streets, resulting in the return of heroin addicts and prostitutes, the closure of GP surgeries in Soho and Westminster and the general chipping away of good NHS standards (like the recent disastrous outsourcing of home deliveries), the reservation of art colleges and universities for wealthy fee-paying students, the swapping of London homes for property portfolios, resulting in such a wealth gap that the usually right-wing Evening Standard referred to London as ‘The Hunger Games City’.
Johnson has a year still to run, and still has time to switch from being London’s salesman to someone who does real good for his people. New York and Rome have traffic-free zones – London has a nightmarish level of pollution in a city where it costs £10 to move a car. What we don’t need right now is a Latin-spouting mayor who seems obsessed with selling London overseas. There are some potentially great mayors waiting in the wings if we can only get to vote for them.
Meanwhile, London becomes ever-more attractive to the billionaires who only want to invest in Kensington & Chelsea, and daily more alarming for those of us who use the NHS, public transport, local shops and streets. On balance, it’s time for a change.