Our exclusive interview with the former mayor about the current mayor’s term
In his eight years as mayor of London, Boris Johnson has presided over some of London’s biggest changes and picked up a lot of praise for them along the way.
He is likely to be remembered for major projects such as the Boris Bikes and the Olympic Games which, lest we forget, were delivered “on time and under budget”.
But how many of these projects were really Johnson’s idea? We delved into the City Hall archives and phoned former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, to get to the bottom of it.
Livingstone told us: “As far as I know, there are only two schemes that are uniquely Boris’s and that’s the cable car to nowhere and the rotating restaurant in the Olympic site [which became the ArcelorMittal Orbit].”
Here are the projects Johnson has won praise for (and what really happened):
They might be informally called Boris Bikes but it was Livingstone who originally pioneered the cycle hire scheme. In 2007, Livingstone announced a scheme similar to the Vélib’ network in Paris, a very successful bicycle sharing scheme in France. Livingstone said he thought the bikes would start a “cycling and walking transformation in London”. He might actually be right, as the number of cyclists in London will soon overtake cars, Transport for London (TfL) predicts.
When the scheme was finally launched in 2010 Johnson said: “I’m a Conservative mayor, but what we’re doing is a gigantic communist experiment.”
When a Channel 4 News journalist asked him if it was Livingstone’s idea, Johnson said, “No it was my idea,” and walked off.
“We started it. Basically when Boris won the election, he couldn’t stop projects that were already contracted out like upgrading the Overground, but he stopped basically every single project that we were working up that wasn’t already contractually committed to, except the bikes.”
2012 Olympic Games
Johnson was London mayor during the 2012 Olympics, which were held in London. Delivered “on time and under budget”, according to the mayor, the event was seen as a huge boost for London’s economy, only a few years after the recession hit.
Though it was criticised at the time, it was awarded as being expense London could do without. By the time the Olympics rolled around, there were very few who could deny it was a great idea. And while Johnson was mayor of London during the event, it was Livingstone who campaigned for the Olympics to be brought to the city. The bid to host the event was headed by Livingstone and Lord Sebastian Coe back in 2005.
“We didn’t just win the bid in 2005, by 2007 we negotiated with Westfield to integrate their site into it and everything was committed and underway.
“I built into the contact with the IOC [International Olympic Committee] in 2005 a clause that no new mayor or government could change the scheme once we agreed it. That’s one of the reasons why it was all done on time.
“One of the fatal mistakes with Olympics is people change their mind about the scheme halfway through and have to increase the costs. So by the time we got to the 2008 election, we agreed the scheme and locked it down. Boris never changed any of my appointees on the Olympic side – he even kept Neil Coleman my old deputy adviser, because he just knew that any real change either at Transport for London or at the Olympics could be catastrophic for him politically.”
The London Overground was first created by Livingstone in 2007, when TfL took over the running of Silverlink routes. So successful was the model that Johnson has extended it and it will soon include all London trains. While Johnson is the mayor who announced this plan to extend it, it was actually first initiated by Livingstone, who had always planned to extend it across London.
“Once again, this is one of Boris’s disasters.
“I persuaded the Labour government, in the legislation that was passed increasing the mayor’s powers in 2007, that the mayor would take over the contracts for running the suburban trains into London and the law changed the composition of the TfL board so it created two extra places to represent local authorities from outside London and that kicked in legally at the time of the mayoral election in 2008.
“Now if I’d been re-elected, we would have taken over the granting of all the contracts and gone for upgrades on all the suburban lines just like we did with the London Overground, but Boris didn’t. He just dropped the whole idea. And so for the last eight years, all the contracts have been let by the government and nothing’s changed.
“It only cost £1.5bn to do that massive upgrade on the London Overground and it’s been incredibly successful. Half the routes coming into London could now be up to that standard.”
In 2012, his Johnson’s mayoral campaign website said: “After years of inaction under the previous mayor, I’ve started to build Crossrail and ensured it will be delivered in full.”
However, it seems despite being in office at the time Crossrail was being built, Johnson actually did very little in the planning stages. In 2005, when the Crossrail Bill went through parliament, Johnson was missing from the vote. He was elected in May 2008, a couple of short months before the Bill was signed into law – arguably too late to have any influence on the decision. It seems the planning for the project was the work of… yep you guessed it.
“The first Crossrail plan I could find was in 1969 and it had been talked about but never taken forward. We started working that up and because it’s costing £15bn we had to get the backing of government and I think in January or February 2007, I took Ed Balls, who was then chief secretary to the Treasury, out to dinner and over four hours and two bottles of wine he agreed the government would give £5bn for the construction of Crossrail.
“He did say it might take him most of the rest of the year to get it signed off through the Treasury but it was agreed before the end of 2007.
“The annoying thing is, we were pushing for Crossrail 2 and also a Crossrail 3. My Crossrail 3 would have been a tunnel from Euston to Waterloo, so suburban trains, like in Paris, could pass straight through, and that really increases capacity. But Boris didn’t carry on pushing for Crossrail 2 until quite recently, and I think it’s on the verge of being agreed now, we’ve just lost some time.”
So why does the public think Johnson did these things?
bly, simply for being mayor at the time these long-term projects were completed, Johnson seems to have won the public’s praise.
But Livingstone also has a more sinister explanation: “One of the things Boris’s team did once they won in 2008 was go through all the dates and records and websites at City Hall and remove my name from all of them and it took some time doing that.”