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?
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.