As he describes his daily commute across London Bridge, the first seven pages of ‘Johnson’s Life of London’ are filled with the vivid and florid prose that makes Boris such an engaging writer. But just as I thought I was in for an enjoyable read, I hit the slow slog through the following 304 pages of his history of London. He has chosen 15 men and three women he believes made the London we know today, from Boudica through Dick Whittington to his two twentieth-century choices of Winston Churchill and Keith Richards.
He admits he lifted most of this from Stephen Inwood’s historical writings, but it reads like a duller version of ‘1066 and All That’ with scatological insights substituting for the humour. Bizarrely, he sets out to prove that Londoners’ lives have been disfigured by a hatred of bankers. He claims Boudica’s rebellion and the peasants’ revolt of 1381 were just excuses to slaughter financiers. In Boris’s world the toiling millions have made no positive contribution, and his greatest praise is reserved for the banker Lionel Rothschild. Apart from Boudica the only women he can find who have contributed to the city are Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.
In contrast to Boris’s chapter on Churchill, where he repeats smears levelled against him (including ‘He got Britain into an avoidable war with Germany’), Thatcher is richly praised for deregulating the banks and building the Jubilee Line extension! In truth, she cancelled the extension and it was left to John Major to reinstate it. Boris has a similar lapse of memory when he reports the plans for a new river crossing in east London and extensions to the DLR and Croydon Tramlink. In fact he cancelled all these schemes immediately after winning the mayoral election.
Senior Tories at City Hall were furious that Boris took so much time off to write this book while youth knife crime is up by a third and the tube has major delays almost daily. If he wants to prove he loves London he would be better off getting on with the day job. Ken Livingstone