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.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue