Boris Johnson: Olympic rings on Tower Bridge ‘a wake-up call for London’

Giant Olympic rings became the crowning glory on Tower Bridge today as the countdown to the London 2012 Games enters the last 30 days.

London 2012 chairman Lord Coe and mayor Boris Johnson were among the VIPs who watched as the rings - 82 feet (25 m) wide and 38 feet (11.5 m) tall - were lowered into place on the central London landmark on the River Thames.

The rings, which weigh three tonnes, cost £259,817 to produce and installing them is estimated to have cost £53,000.

A light show, complete with beams of changing colours and intensity, is set to bring the rings to life tonight.

Describing the sight as "glorious Tower Bridge", Mr Johnson said the landmark was the perfect choice to showcase what London has to offer this summer.

He said: "The rings are a wake up call for London, that we've got 30 days to go."

He added: "We're confident we're as ready as any Olympic city has been at this stage."

House of Lords reform: Nick Clegg’s crazy plan is a pay day for has-beens and never-wozzers

The Upper House has soldiers and airmen and scholars and lawyers and scientists and film directors and heaven knows what – many of whom would not dream of seeking election on a party-political ticket. Week in, week out they beaver away, revising and improving the legislative Horlicks that they get from the Commons; doing nothing much, as the old analysis has it, and doing it rather well.

They have tended for a long time to be more representative of society than the Commons – there are more people from ethnic minorities, there are more women, more disabled people. It is probably true that there are more bishops in the Lords than there are in the population at large, but who cares? There’s nothing like a bishop or two to add a touch of class and restraint to a revising chamber. They still have a few of the less obviously inbred hereditaries, in a gesture not just to the ancient roots of the institution but also to the fundamentally different nature of the Lords. It is crucial to the success of the Upper House that it is somehow at a distance from party-political machines, and above all that it is at one remove from the electorate.

Now the Lib Dems are proposing that voters should have a new type of politico – a “senator” – with his or her own direct mandate and constituency. This will be confusing for the voters, who will be wondering whether they should be writing to their local councillor, their MP, their Euro-MP or their senator; and it will be even worse for the egos of these bozos. Consider for a second who is likely to seek election to the Lords/Senate. People who have never made it to Parliament; people who have been flung out of Parliament; has-beens; never-wozzers; people who can see the opportunity to avenge their rejections by finding an alternative route to power. Once ensconced in the Lords they will remain there for three solid parliamentary terms, swanking, swaggering and using the headed stationery for their shopping lists.

Suddenly, the politically thrusting characters of this country will work out an alternative career structure, a new way of achieving ministerial office. And if they decide to take on their green-benched colleagues in the Lower House, as they inevitably will, who will be able to shut them up? A direct mandate is a powerful thing. Look here, mate, a senator will be able to say to a poor old MP, you were elected by 70,000 people. I have 570,000 people in my constituency – and I don’t have to worry about them kicking me out. The whole beauty and balance of the present system would be wrecked. We accept the idea that the Lords is the “Upper House” only because the Commons – being elected – has the real primacy and the real democratic legitimacy. These reforms would undermine that primacy, and the status of MPs – already bashed by the expenses business – would become positively Lilliputian.

The Prime Minister was completely right when he said that reform of the House of Lords was something the government should consider in its third term. This plan is a bunch of tidy-minded Lib Dem nonsense. It would create a new, grandiose, expensive and unnecessary class of political hack. It would turn Parliament into a chronic feud between two types of elected representative. Clegg’s scheme needs to be liquidated, vaporised and generally terminated with extreme prejudice.

Dithering Europe is heading for the democratic dark ages

It took hundreds of years before the population was restored to Roman levels. If we think that no such disaster could happen again, we are not just arrogant but forgetful of the lessons of the very recent past. Never mind the empty temples of the Aztecs or the Incas or the reproachful beehive structures of the lost civilisation of Great Zimbabwe. Look at our own era: the fate of European Jewry, massacred in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents, on the deranged orders of an elected government in what had been one of the most civilised countries on earth; or look at the skyline of modern German cities, and mourn those medieval buildings blown to smithereens in an uncontrollable cycle of revenge. Yes, when things go backwards, they can go backwards fast. Technology, liberty, democracy, comfort – they can all go out of the window. However complacent we may be, in the words of the poet Geoffrey Hill, “Tragedy has us under regard”. Nowhere is that clearer than in Greece today.

Every day we read of fresh horrors: of once proud bourgeois families queuing for bread, of people in agony because the government has run out of money to pay for cancer drugs. Pensions are being cut, living standards are falling, unemployment is rising, and the suicide rate is now the highest in the EU – having been one of the lowest.

By any standards we are seeing a whole nation undergo a protracted economic and political humiliation; and whatever the result of yesterday’s election, we seem determined to make matters worse. There is no plan for Greece to leave the euro, or none that I can discover. No European leader dares suggest that this might be possible, since that would be to profane the religion of Ever Closer Union. Instead we are all meant to be conniving in a plan to create a fiscal union which (if it were to mean anything) would mean undermining the fundamentals of Western democracy.

This forward-marching concept of history – the idea of inexorable political and economic progress – is really a modern one. In ancient times, it was common to speak of lost golden ages or forgotten republican virtues or prelapsarian idylls. It is only in the past few hundred years that people have switched to the “Whig” interpretation, and on the face of it one can forgive them for their optimism. We have seen the emancipation of women, the extension of the franchise to all adult human beings, the acceptance that there should be no taxation without representation and the general understanding that people should be democratically entitled to determine their own fates.

And now look at what is being proposed in Greece. For the sake of bubble-gumming the euro together, we are willing to slaughter democracy in the very place where it was born. What is the point of a Greek elector voting for an economic programme, if that programme is decided in Brussels or – in reality – in Germany? What is the meaning of Greek freedom, the freedom Byron fought for, if Greece is returned to a kind of Ottoman dependency, but with the Sublime Porte now based in Berlin?

It won’t work. If things go on as they are, we will see more misery, more resentment, and an ever greater chance that the whole damn kebab van will go up in flames. Greece will one day be free again – in the sense that I still think it marginally more likely than not that whoever takes charge in Athens will eventually find a way to restore competitiveness through devaluation and leaving the euro – for this simple reason: that market confidence in Greek membership is like a burst paper bag of rice – hard to restore.

Without a resolution, without clarity, I am afraid the suffering will go on. The best way forward would be an orderly bisection into an old eurozone and a New Eurozone for the periphery. With every month of dither, we delay the prospect of a global recovery; while the approved solution – fiscal and political union – will consign the continent to a democratic dark ages.

Hail Mayor Mike and the paper cups that will not runneth over

Uh-huh, you bet, there you go, have a nice day, no problem at all, sir. With all the legendary courtesy of the American catering industry, the white-hatted staff were piling each plate with enough calories to feed a family of Eritreans for a week. There were barons of beef, swaddled in ribbons of delicious yellow fat. The bed of the Atlantic had been denuded to provide the tails – just the tails – of a thousand lobsters. It was a kind of gastronomic United Nations: here the Mexican enchiladas, there the Chinese chop suey, and everything served on an all-you-can-eat basis, where all-you-can-eat turns out to be a very large quantity indeed.

So far, it would be fair to say that New York and London have responded in much the same way. We all champion healthier eating; we sing the praises of vegetables; we wag our fingers at cheeseburgers; we extol the benefits of exercise. Kate Hoey has done wonders with her grassroots sports programme, aimed at rousing inactive kids and adults from the sofa.

New York is next month installing a cycle hire scheme, modelled on London’s, in the hope of getting people out of their cars. But now Mike Bloomberg is going a stage further. Mike is a businessman turned politician, but he began as a scientist, with a training in physics.

As he puts it, you cannot get around the laws of thermodynamics, and if you eat more than your body burns, you will get fatter. That is why he is asking the New York Health Board – which he effectively controls – to approve a ban on soft drink cups larger than 16 ounces. If you want to drink more than 16 ounces of Sprite or Coke or Dr Pepper, you will be perfectly at liberty to do so: but you will have to buy more than one cup. And he quotes all sorts of tests that show human beings will generally eat what is put in front of them. If you put more in front of them, they will eat more; if you reduce the size of the portion, they will eat less.

It sounds, on the face of it, like a pretty hysterical piece of nanny-statery. Mike Bloomberg has appeared to cast himself in the role of Mr Bumble the beadle, denouncing all those kids who have the effrontery to ask for more. As you can imagine, the proposal is the butt of plenty of jokes on TV shows, and a rabid reaction from Big Soda: an indignant Coca-Cola has been on the phone from Atlanta.

For those of us who are instinctively libertarian, it is all a bit difficult – at least philosophically. But never mind the philosophy; what about the practical effects? This is the same Bloomberg, after all, whose smoking ban was also derided, and then imitated around the world. His action against smoking is now seen as a big step in reducing a particularly nasty addiction that had claimed the lives of millions. Across the West, we are seeing a falling away in the number of cancers contracted, a fall in the number of deaths. If we could reduce the consumption of sugary drinks, and release some children from the captivity of fatness, might that not be worth exploring?

By next April, we will have a new and improved anti-obesity strategy in London, and yes, we will look at the practicality of Bloomberg’s ideas. In the meantime, I think we should pay tribute to the continuing boldness of the Mayor of New York. He has been a public official for longer than Obama. He has run a corporation far bigger than Romney’s. He is the 11th richest man in the US, with wealth of $22 billion, and yet he still cares about the size of paper cups and childhood obesity. There is still time for him to change his mind and go for the White House. Bloomberg for President!

I could be President of the United States, Boris Johnson tells David Letterman

Mr Johnson was in jovial mood as he returned to New York, the city of his birth, to face questions from veteran talk show host David Letterman.

He was quizzed on a host of topics including the 'Boris bike' cycle hire scheme, a similar version of which is soon to be impemented in the US city by New York counterpart Michael Bloomberg, and how long he had been cutting his own hair.

Letterman also put to Mr Johnson, who was in New York to promote London and his new book 'Johnson's Life of London', whether he harboured any desire to become prime minister after his Mayoral term comes to an end.

"I've as much chance of being reincarnated as an olive," the Mayor replied.

When pushed again on his ambitions, Mr Johnson conceded that he could run again for office. Referring to his birth on US soil, he said: "I could be president of the United States, technically speaking."

The people bunted for Britain – even the Royals were stunned

And so they came and they cheered and they waved and they provided at last a past tense for bunting. They bunted for Britain.

They were cheering all kinds of things. They were acknowledging the spectacle of the pageant itself, the sheer joy of all those launches and lighters and dhows and dragon boats – everything from a weird coracle of the kind that Charon might have used to ferry the dead, to the little boats of Dunkirk, to the Gloriana herself, the first royal barge to be commissioned for more than a century, with her bank of golden oars flashing in unison – and if there is a lovelier vessel afloat I have yet to see it.

You could argue that they were showing an atavistic delight in the skill in boating and seamanship that made this country rich and which turned London from an estuarial swamp of pleistocene clay, with no minerals worth extracting, to the most powerful commercial centre on earth.

You could say that they were revelling in the spectacle of the city itself, conscious of the glory of the buildings that line the Thames and their own role as spectators in a TV occasion that was being watched by millions, if not billions, around the world.

But there is no getting away from the central point with which we began. They were cheering mainly for the Queen. It was, at root, a pretty simple feeling the crowd wanted to get over – a wish to thank her for 60 years of service to the country.

When you looked at the crowds on the banks of the Thames yesterday, you saw that they get the point the republicans miss. They know why she is so valuable, and that it is nothing to do with her politics or her lifestyle or the many houses or racehorses she owns.

She not only incarnates the history of the country in her DNA. She provides a focus for their own love of their country: and in that sense the monarchy fulfils a function that Left-wingers should fervently support. She collectivises the nation. In a selfish and atomised age, she gives people a way of thinking not so much about themselves, but about everyone; not me, but us. She has done it brilliantly for 60 years, and that is why they cheered for such hours; because no one in history has fulfilled that role so skilfully and so successfully.

I was on a boat with several members of the Royal family and I don’t think I am being indiscreet if I say they were stunned at the number of people on the riverbank. “I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime,” I said to Sir John Major. “And we won’t see anything like it again,” he said. Maybe not; but I bet our children will.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: The people bunted for Britain – even the Royals were stunned

And so they came and they cheered and they waved and they provided at last a past tense for bunting. They bunted for Britain.

They were cheering all kinds of things. They were acknowledging the spectacle of the pageant itself, the sheer joy of all those launches and lighters and dhows and dragon boats – everything from a weird coracle of the kind that Charon might have used to ferry the dead, to the little boats of Dunkirk, to the Gloriana herself, the first royal barge to be commissioned for more than a century, with her bank of golden oars flashing in unison – and if there is a lovelier vessel afloat I have yet to see it.

You could argue that they were showing an atavistic delight in the skill in boating and seamanship that made this country rich and which turned London from an estuarial swamp of pleistocene clay, with no minerals worth extracting, to the most powerful commercial centre on earth.

You could say that they were revelling in the spectacle of the city itself, conscious of the glory of the buildings that line the Thames and their own role as spectators in a TV occasion that was being watched by millions, if not billions, around the world.

But there is no getting away from the central point with which we began. They were cheering mainly for the Queen. It was, at root, a pretty simple feeling the crowd wanted to get over – a wish to thank her for 60 years of service to the country.

When you looked at the crowds on the banks of the Thames yesterday, you saw that they get the point the republicans miss. They know why she is so valuable, and that it is nothing to do with her politics or her lifestyle or the many houses or racehorses she owns.

She not only incarnates the history of the country in her DNA. She provides a focus for their own love of their country: and in that sense the monarchy fulfils a function that Left-wingers should fervently support. She collectivises the nation. In a selfish and atomised age, she gives people a way of thinking not so much about themselves, but about everyone; not me, but us. She has done it brilliantly for 60 years, and that is why they cheered for such hours; because no one in history has fulfilled that role so skilfully and so successfully.

I was on a boat with several members of the Royal family and I don’t think I am being indiscreet if I say they were stunned at the number of people on the riverbank. “I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime,” I said to Sir John Major. “And we won’t see anything like it again,” he said. Maybe not; but I bet our children will.

Boris Johnson at Hay Festival 2012: I won’t be PM

Speaking at the Hay Festival, the Mayor of London was asked whether he would want to be Prime Minister.

In his denial, he proceeded to give a long list of things that might happen before he could ever think of becoming the PM.

"My realistic chances of becoming Prime Minister are only slightly better than my chances of being decapitated by a frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a disused fridge or reincarnated as a olive," Mr Johnson said.

Boris Johnson’s ‘Life of London’: exclusive extract

Turner had known John Constable since at least 1813. Constable had always been kind to the great lion – in public, at any rate – and praised his “visionary qualities”. It was only a few years ago that Turner had personally informed the younger man of his election to the Academy (though there is some doubt about which way he actually voted); and now Constable had used his position on the Hanging Committee to perform this monstrous switcheroo. It was, as they say, a hanging offence.

Turner let rip. In the words of one witness, David Roberts RA, Turner “opened upon him like a ferret”. Constable did his best to clamber back on to the moral high ground.

He was simply anxious to discharge his sacred duty to hang the Academy’s paintings to best advantage. It was all a question of doing justice to Turner’s work, and so on. But no matter how much Constable wriggled and twisted, said Roberts, Turner kept coming back with his zinger. “Yes,” he hissed at Constable, “but why put your own there?”

“It was obvious to all present that Turner detested Constable,” Roberts reported. “I must say that Constable looked to me, and I believe to everyone, like a detected criminal, and I must add Turner slew him without remorse. But as he had brought it on himself, few, if any, pitied him.”

Turner was furious for a mixture of reasons. There was certainly an element of chippiness. Constable was the good-looking heir of a well-to-do Suffolk corn merchant, who had privately declared that Turner was “uncouth”, which in those days meant strange or out of the ordinary. Turner was a defiantly self-made cockney, born above a barber’s shop in Maiden Lane.

Constable was a pious and uxorious fellow, who by that stage was wearing black in memory of his wife. Turner was known to be scornful of the married state, and once exploded, “I hate all married men!” – a generalisation thought to have been aimed at Constable. “They never make any sacrifice to the arts,” he went on, “but are always thinking of their duty to their wives and families or some rubbish of that sort.”

No, Turner and Constable were not cut out to be chums. But what drove Turner wild that day was not just the underhand manner in which Constable had promoted his own painting – but the disagreeable reality that the canvas in question – Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows – was a stunner. As Turners go, Caligula’s Palace is in the not-half-bad category, but over the last 180 years, I am afraid it has been beaten hollow for a place on the biscuit tins by Salisbury Cathedral. Turner was a shrewd enough judge of a painting’s commercial potential to see that he had been not only cynically bumped by his rival, but bumped in favour of an arguably superior product. He thirsted for revenge, and the next year he got it.

In 1832, Constable exhibited his Opening of Waterloo Bridge, a painting to which he attached great importance and on which he laboured, apparently, for 10 years. Everyone knew he could do clouds and trees and little kids lapping water from the stream, but could he do the grand occasion?

Turner was not only an acknowledged master of the pastoral watercolour, but he had done colossal canvases of Dido founding Carthage, or Ulysses deriding Polyphemus, or the Battle of Trafalgar. Now it was Constable’s turn to compete in that genre, and he was vulnerable.

Every painting must have a “hero”, a point of light or colour to which the eye is drawn before wandering over the canvas. The trouble with Waterloo Bridge is that there is certainly a lot going on – crowds of spectators, waving bunting, flashing oars, soldiers in busbies; and yet for all the glints of silver and gold and vermilion and crimson lake, there is no focal point. There is no hero.

It is a bit of jumble, and it was hard luck that it was exhibited in a small room next to a very simple Turner seascape. According to CR Leslie RA, who saw what happened next, Turner’s effort was “a grey picture, beautiful and true, but with no positive colour in any part of it”.

As was the custom of the day, Constable was working on his own picture on the very wall of the gallery – titivating the decorations and the flags of the barges with yet more crimson and vermilion, each fleck of colour somehow detracting from the others.

Turner came into the room, and watched as Constable fiddled away. Then he went off to another room where he was touching up another picture, and returned with his palette and brushes. He walked up to his picture and, without hesitation, he added a daub of red, somewhat bigger than a coin, in the middle of the grey sea. Then he left.

Leslie entered the room just as Turner was walking out, and he saw immediately how “the intensity of the red lead, made more vivid by the coolness of his picture, caused even the vermilion and lake (crimson) of Constable to look weak”.

Constable turned to him and spoke in tones of despair. “He has been here,” he said, “and fired a gun.”

Turner did not bother to come back to the painting for the next day and a half – and then, in the last moments that were allowed for painting, he glazed the scarlet seal he had put on his picture and shaped it into a buoy.

In 1870, long after Turner was dead, Claude Monet came to London. He went to the galleries and saw what Turner had done. He went to the same vantage points on the banks of the Thames, and like Turner, he painted the Houses of Parliament – in this case the Barry and Pugin masterpiece whose £2 million cost Dickens had so deplored. The building was different, the smog was even thicker, and Monet and Co were to go on to become the most fashionable painters of our times.

But there can be no serious doubt that the first breakthrough was Turner’s. He was the first to assert the principle that what mattered was not what you saw, but the way you saw it. He was the father of impressionism.

  • Johnson’s Life of London: the People Who Made the City that Made the World is published by Harper Press at £20. To order for £18 plus £1.25 p&p, call Telegraph Books Direct at 0844 871 1515 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk