Preview: Boris Johnson: “I’ll tell you what makes me angry – lefty crap”

Our exclusive interview with the London mayor, in tomorrow's magazine.

boris ken

Click here to read extracts from Jemima Khan's interview with Ken Livingstone

For this week's issue of the New Statesman (on newsstands tomorrow), Jemima Khan interviewed -- on the same day -- both of the leading contenders for the 2012 London mayoral election: the incumbent, Boris Johnson, and the inaugural mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Here are some edited excerpts from Khan's lunch with Boris:

Boris on Ken:

I am the guy who has concentrated on spending their [the taxpayers'] money where it really counts for Londoners . . . I haven't been so arrogant as to squander it on things that would bring no benefit to the people of this city at all, like flying off to bloody Havana and shacking up with Fidel Castro for a while. What is the point of that; how does that help Londoners? Show me the jobs that brought to London. The difference between him and me is that he used huge sums of taxpayers' money for his own self-publicity - he spent £12m on a freesheet he used to shove through people's letter boxes, proclaiming his achievements.

Boris on bankers' bonuses:

If you look at where we are now as a society, we are endlessly focused on the very narrow, newspaper-driven agenda of rage against anybody who creates wealth, and that sort of hatred of bankers and bonuses - which I perfectly understand emotionally - is just [aimed at] the wrong target. What you need to do is focus on what these people could be doing to help those at the bottom.

Boris on his private life:

Who was the first politician to call for a truth and reconciliation process between politicians and the media? I am the father of the Leveson inquiry - I claim paternity for the whole Leveson inquiry.

Boris on News International:

I think it was important to make the case to News International about what the Tories were doing and at least [Cameron] didn't have slumber parties with them.

Boris on alcohol crime:

Look, alcohol-related violence is a major problem in London, domestic violence in particular. It is one of the few indicators that's been going in the wrong direction . . . we have got a problem in society generally with alcohol and . . . compared to my sodding, fucking private life, it is far more important!

Boris Johnson quick-fire questions

How important to you is it to be liked?
No more than most politicians.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It's something to do with a bottle of wine in the sun and then a swim and that sort of thing . . .

What is your greatest fear?
Finding myself on a beach with Ken Livingstone.

Which living person do you most admire?
You.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Excessive candour with journalists.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Concealing the truth. Making false promises and failing to deliver.

On what occasions do you lie and when did you last lie?
There is some sort of paradox in that question, I know . . . I think it's perfectly true that I inadvertently told someone that we reduced Tube delays by 20 per cent when it turns out that we reduced them by 40 per cent and I regularly regret the error, but there is nothing I can do about it. At last - I got the truth out.

Which living person do you most despise?
I'm not big on hate.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Obviously my wife.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I have got this project - I am learning the Iliad off by heart, and at the moment I am only on line 100 and it is so laborious. I wish I had a proper eidetic memory.

What is your motto?
I think my motto is drawn from my grandmother. She used to say: "Don't worry, darling - it's not how you are doing, it's what you are doing."

When did you last cry?
Wait, wait, wait, there was something . . . the tears did well up . . . Some play or film . . .

The Iron Lady?
No, no. I don't want you to get the idea . . . I am capable [of] the melting mood - I drop tears as fast as the Arabian tree, its medicinable gum.

What do you do to relax?
What I do is submit to a really long, gruelling interview. My idea of perfect relaxation is an hour with the New Statesman.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Good question. If the readers of the New Statesman buy Johnson's Life of London - still available at all good outlets - they will find a number of historical characters that I greatly admire. I leave it to them to guess which, having read it.

What is your greatest boast?
That we have delivered a sound, progressive administration of London over the last four years which has cut tax and cut crime.

Click here to read extracts from Jemima Khan's interview with Ken Livingstone

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496