Boris isn’t looking for a third term, he’s looking to create a legacy.
By Jack Peat
Boris Johnson’s ambitious plans for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary and the Hitler-esque (quote Sir Terry Farrell) ‘Borough of Heathrow’ housing development don’t reflect rational thinking on the Mayor’s part, but rather a man that is hell bent on creating a legacy.
The Mayor of London – the job, the brand and the international symbol – has become one of the most prominent roles in politics since being created in 2000 following the London devolution referendum. Not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of London (a position currently held by Roger Gifford), the new form of local governance has transformed infrastructural investment projects in the capital, creating a more direct link to politics in the public eye which creates a pseudo-celebrity status for the elected politician.
Boris has leaped into the hearts of the nation because his job entails, in essence, spending cash and smiling for the press as he cuts commemorative red ribbons. The blue Barclays’ Bikes that litter the streets of London have been (unfairly) dubbed after the prominent Mayor and the Olympic legacy, Tour de France and several other high profile events are also associated with him, regardless of his actual level of involvement.
So when the Mayor proposes shifting one of the largest airport hubs in the world on a Thunderbird Island platform and creating a new London Borough in its place, one must ask whether all this infrastructure may have gone to his head.
What powers does the Mayor have at his disposal?
The main power Mr Johnston currently has in his role as the Mayor of London is – as the Daily Telegraph’s political commentator Iain Martin recently described – his star power. Undoubtedly Boris can own a stage and he actively tries to stand out from the crowd to fuel a political position which is more about publicity than policy.
But the other major weapon in his arsenal is money. Taxes obtained from several (although not all) levies in London – from property to tourism – give the Mayor the ability to back groundbreaking schemes with significant financial clout. What’s more, he is also able to snuggle in among corporate pals who are kept well fed and watered on the Mayor’s budget.
It is this financial clout and private sector influence that has brought blue bikes to the streets of London, reduced congestion through charges and allowed infrastructural developments such as Crossrail and Nine Elms to take place. As Boris watches London develop without boundaries, his ability to permanently alter the capital’s skyline may be skewing his capacity to think rationally.
Infrastructure gone mad
Plans to build a £65 billion airport on the Thames Estuary is a distorted vision comparable to something Hitler would have dreamed up. At least that’s what Sir Terry believes, and after planning the Thames Gateway, Charing Cross Station, the MI6 headquarters and several transport developments across Asia, he has the right to pass judgement.
“When people say that you have got to have vision, well Hitler had vision. Vision can be a madness where you get so obsessed you throw everything you have got on the roulette table and hope you got it right,” he said.
Boris Johnson’s vision is one of a legacy. After seeing plans for Battersea Power Station’s regeneration streamlined and central London’s underground system reworked, one can forgive the Mayor for feeling omnipotent. But the Thames Estuary is infrastructure gone mad, and plans for a retreat may soon be on the cards if he is to savour that all important public image.