Ken rings me: "Gotta fire you, Stevie. Now you can say you're the only man to get a P45 from me and IDS"

Dinner at the Royal College of Surgeons on Monday; Corin Redgrave and I spoke at a fundraiser for the British Urological Foundation, which is tackling the scandal of prostate cancer deaths in this country. Here, 4 per cent of men know their PSA count. In the States, 75 per cent do. If you are male and over 50, and talk of PSA counts means nothing to you, go and see your GP and ask for the simple blood test. Be prepared for one thing: NHS advice to GPs is not to discuss screening unless patients make a fuss.

In the US, screening is considered routine and is very widely available. But the real difference is our appalling male death rate compared to that in America, from a cancer that is completely curable, but only if caught early enough. The cynicism of government can still make me angry, because this is all about saving money. I only found out about my own prostate problem because of a private medical screening, which threw in a PSA test as an afterthought.

It gives me every chance of surviving unscathed. The scandal is that thousands of British men - like George Carman, who lost his battle with prostate cancer this year, in his early seventies, and at the height of his powers - find out too late.


To Newsnight on Tuesday to talk about the Heathrow Terminal Five decision. Like thousands of Londoners, I live under the flight path, but I also did know there was an airport nearby when we moved in five years ago. There is something vaguely offensive about nimbyism at the best of times, but the UK planning system positively nurtures it. I remember Des Wilson - then of the British Airports Authority - telling me of his conversation with a strident objector who opened his wallet to display a BA gold card: he seemed unaware that his own biweekly trip to the airport might be connected to the number of flights out of it.


Saw John Spellar, the transport minister, in the Commons on Wednesday to discuss the National Cycling Strategy Board, which he has asked me to chair. It is supposed actually to deliver something positive to get over this country's pathetic record on encouraging cycling. I've been keen on cycling, especially in cities, for years. With half of all our car journeys covering less than two miles, it makes sense to convert as many as possible. But if you want to get people on bikes, you first have to create conditions where they don't feel they're taking their life into their hands every time they venture out. Then you have to give them somewhere to park their bike, so that it won't be removed as a security hazard, or simply nicked. John told me that, as I set the strategy targets six years ago, he'd given me the job of achieving them. I'm looking forward to the challenge.


Back to the office to take a short phone call from Ken Livingstone. "Gotta fire you, Stevie. You've got all these conflicts of interest and, let's face it, you're only campaigning for 2004. Anyway, now you can say you're the only man to get a P45 from me and Iain Duncan Smith."

I knew I was getting under Ken's skin, not least because I was more and more exasperated by the complete lack of progress on just about everything he's responsible for, and committed the cardinal sin of saying so. Ken knew perfectly well I had all sorts of commercial interests in transport when he took me on, but in those heady days after the election, that obviously didn't matter. He was much keener on his Big Tent, with me, Jimmy Knapp and Susan Kramer, all supposedly bound together by goodwill and a love of London. The trouble was that, when we got down to the issues, goodwill was not enough. I like Ken as a person, and in lots of ways it makes sense for him and me to have what the London Evening Standard called a civilised "no fault" divorce, but by the end we were hardly agreeing on the date. I think he's wrong on just about everything, and the sentiment is clearly mutual. I think Ken's all about politics and couldn't even spell the word delivery. To me, the job is about making a difference by managing so many commonplace issues sensibly. Ken is treating the GLA just like he treated the GLC. I remember those idiotic banners floating over County Hall. It's only a matter of time before they are fluttering over the Glass Testicle by Tower Bridge - and with just about as much effect as last time. All Ken has guaranteed so far is that Blair, Brown and Byers, however deep their personal differences, stay united in not giving London's mayor the time of day if they can possibly help it. That's quite an achievement in the first two years.


Drove out to Great Yarmouth on Friday for the Conservative Association dinner. The 40-odd faithful souls gathered there were grateful to me for making the effort and I enjoyed their company. A surprisingly strong contingent had been canvassing in the Ipswich by-election the previous week. One sometimes forgets how many Conservative activists don't worry about shifts to the right or left, nor care overmuch about positions on the euro. They will always be Tories, and when the call comes they answer it. Tory members are so much more enjoyable and downright normal than their ludicrous stereotype. I would never have bothered to stay in a party that was as xenophobic and homophobic as we were so often painted over the past year or so.

From what I can tell, Iain understands that, which is a start. But his problem was all too obvious on Friday night. My life's ambition is to be older than the average age of the Conservative Party. On the evidence of Great Yarmouth, I'll be holding on for quite a few years yet before I get to realise that particular ambition.

This article first appeared in the 03 December 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Who needs 12 when one will do?