Murnaghan 22.07.12 Interview with Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, on the Olympics

July 22, 2012


DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Almost four years ago, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson received the Olympic flag in Beijing but now though he is having to tell Londoners and others to stop whinging and put a sock in it. Joining us now from Hackney in east London is the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, a very good morning to you Mr Johnson. Put a sock in it and more, do you think we have turned into a nation as they say in Ireland of begrudgers?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well I think it’s always very dangerous for politicians to try to go around ordering people to be cheerful and all the rest of it but I do think actually what’s happening now is that the mood is perceptibly changing, I think people are starting to get really excited here in London about the arrival of the torch. I think there were vast crowds yesterday, we had 512,000 people – it sounds high to me but those are the figures I’ve been given – who turned out to watch the torch relay and I think the last remaining clouds of dampness and Olympo-scepticism are going to be banished in the next week and I hope very much, though you can never count your chickens but I hope very much we are going to deliver a great Games.

DM: But you can’t play down, can you, that mess with G4S, the immigration queues, the potential strike and indeed grumbles about your Olympic lanes.?

BJ: You can’t play them down but on the other hand what you can do is try to set them in context and try to show people that actually each problem individually is being very well taken care of and last night Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee, stood up and said that London was as well-prepared as any Olympic city he’d ever seen at this stage and I can go through all the cavils and the questions that you’ve just mentioned, Dermot, but fundamentally I think the thing that people will really be wanting to know about is, is the security going to be okay and to the best of our ability we think we’re going to deliver a safe Games and yes, to the best of my knowledge G4S personnel are working well with the military personnel. I want to make a distinction, an important distinction between the many, many thousands of G4S people who are doing a great job and of course the people, the 836,000, who may have made a bog of it earlier on. The fact is, the fact is that they are now doing a first-class job working with the military and if you go to the venues and you see how it’s all running, it looks very, very good indeed.

DM: What about the immigration mess, the strikes? We had all those discussions beforehand, thrown a lot of resources at it, it all looked like it was going to run fine and now this potential strike ahead.

BJ: Of course it’s frustrating and I think it’s peculiar that the union leadership should decide to do this at this very moment, I think it’s frankly a mistake on their part. I think the overwhelming majority of members of the PCS will want to get behind the Olympic Games, get behind the city and the country and come to work and I’m sure that’s what is going to happen. If that doesn’t happen then we have plans, contingency plans, to make sure that we get people through the airports, get them to the venues on time and just to anticipate your next question, is the transport system going to hold up? Well so far it seems to be doing very well, touch wood, counting no chickens, it seems to be doing okay. I cannot stand before you today and say there will be no problems, there’ll be no imperfections – of course there will be and of course we’ll work very, very hard to minimise them but at the moment I think the London Games I would say are cautiously on track.

DH: I wasn’t going to ask you about the transport system but I now will because you’ve raised it but of course the Games haven’t started yet. I came in to work today, as I say at the top of our programme we’re live from the heart of Westminster and there is an Olympic lane there which I know isn’t operational yet, there is an Olympic lane, one of your blue bike lanes and nowhere discernibly for cars to go. Are you really saying to people, just don’t drive in London?

BJ: Well the Olympic lanes, as you just rightly said Dermot, are not yet operational and as for my blue bike lanes, they are perfectly … there is no ban on allowing your wheels to stray into them, they are there purely, as you know they are there for indicative purposes. What we are saying to people is yes, come the middle of next week we do expect quite a lot of pressure on the road network and yes, from now on in my strong advice to people is if you can plan your journey differently, get on the web, get on to and think about using public transport and yes, probably don’t drive through central London in Games time is my advice.

DH: Okay, let’s look at one of the potential big plusses here, and it is only potential at the moment, an economic boost that business will profit from these Olympics. The signs are rather patchy to say the least at the moment.

BJ: Well I don’t think it is just potential, I think it’s actual. If you look at what’s happened in the Olympic Park already, Dermot, you’ve got a £1.5 billion investment by an Australian commercial company, the Westfield Shopping Centre, 8000 jobs that would never have come to east London without that stimulus of the Olympic Games. You have got pension funds from around the world pouring money into that Olympic Village, ready to put more long-term funds into the international broadcast centre, the media centre. London is very unusual in that the Games venues are almost all assured of their legacy already, six of the eight venues have got their future lined up and the last two, the Stadium and the IBC MBC are well on track. When I say it is actual and not potential, look at the transport investment we’ve already got in London, Dermot. The Jubilee Line has been substantially upgraded, people may not universally accept this point but it is working much faster and better and we will put those programmes of modernisation on all the lines and look at the DLR, it’s been expanded by 50%, you’ve got a spanking new air-conditioned East London Line going up from Croydon through the City, that wouldn’t have happened without the Olympic Games. These are things that are on the ground already, now. In the course of the next few weeks we need to leverage that, we need to get international business to see why London is the greatest city on earth to live in and invest in and we’re going to do that.

DM: Ah, now you mentioned that, international business, there will be a lot of high rollers here from around the world, is this a PR opportunity as well to mend images slightly because we are seen I suspect internationally as banker bashing and you yourself, when you referred to the bosses of G4S just there, talked about them making a bog of it. The international image abroad is slightly that we’re turning anti-business.

BJ: I don’t think so. When people look at London, believe me when the world looks at London they see a place, when they look at Britain generally, they see a place with an incredible future. We have the closest possible relationship to the United States, we remain members of the world’s largest trading bloc in the European Union, we have the right time zone, we have the right language, we have a young dynamic population, increasingly skilled population and what we need to get right in my view is we need to stop being so miserabilist about making money, we need to make sure that we don’t, as you point out, we don’t endlessly savage financial services industries, they do a great deal to bring income not just to this city but across the country, generates about 12% of government tax revenues come from the financial services industry, we should support that industry and we need to remember that to be competitive in the long term with other great cities and countries around the world, we need to invest in our transport infrastructure, we need to have for instance a new hub airport, I’ve been campaigning for that. Get those things right and I think that – and all international studies confirm this – Britain has a most amazing future.

DM: Okay and do you think that if we start to feel better about ourselves as a result of these Olympics and hopefully a huge medal haul, that there’ll be some kind of spin off for the party that you’re part of that is in government? Do you think they will have a boost?

BJ: I think as Jeremy Hunt was telling you just now, this is something that all parties are united behind but obviously what I really hope is that the Olympics will be something that confirms what I think is true, that this is a country that can do great things, that can achieve great things and sporting achievement of course is just a metaphor, it’s not directly responsible for driving economic growth but it is of huge psychological importance and hearing today that for the first time in history we’re getting a British winner of the Tour de France, people may say that’s all irrelevant and immaterial but I think it’s fantastic. Bradley Wiggins is going to be a new international star and he comes from London.

DM: Indeed, he should ride up the Champs Elysee on a Boris bike I think, that would be a fitting end to the Tour de France. Mr Johnson, thank you very much indeed. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London there.

BJ: Thank you.

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