Boris Johnson out-charms George Osborne in China

Mr Johnson then turned to a Chinese student, asking: "The yin and the yang. What do you say for a harmonious, sounds like one of those Chinese fireworks, a harmonious dove or something like that? A pair of harmonious doves. What is that in Chinese?"

After she looked back blankly, Mr Osborne said: "I think she likes the yin and yang comparatively."

Earlier, the mayor could not resist a friendly dig at Mr Osborne, who in a speech at the university mentioned that his 10-year-old daughter was learning Mandarin.

Mr Johnson then told the same audience that not only was his daughter learning the language but also planned to visit China next week.

Mr Johnson said: "George mentions his daughter, I have a 16-year-old and she is not only learning Mandarin George, she's coming here next week to pursue her studies."

After the speeches, Mr Johnson proved more popular in a question and answer session, with just one question directed at Mr Osborne.

The mayor and the Chancellor have long been touted as successors to David Cameron as Conservative Party leader and their visits come at a time of thawing relations following a diplomatic row over the Prime Minister meeting the Dalai Lama last year.

Both Mr Osborne's and Mr Johnson's trips have been in the pipeline for months but the timing of the Chancellor's visit was revealed more recently than the mayor's.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson stressed he was "very pleased" that Mr Osborne was visiting while admitting the timing was handled by the Government.

Sources: ITN/PA

It’s a vigorous, voracious press that keeps our country honest

A public inquiry became inevitable, and before that inquiry there trooped a succession of famous people who felt that the media had been not so much wrong as plain beastly; just horrid in the way they behaved, the kinds of questions they asked, the appalling things they wrote. By the end of the whole fandango – and it was a long time coming – it was obvious that we would have some kind of attempt at regulation; and it was also obvious that any such regulation was a nonsense.

We already have abundant law against obscenity, or breach of official secrets. We have laws against libel and defamation, against bugging, hacking, theft, bribery of public officials. We have a growing tort of breach of privacy. We have no need of some new body backed by statute, or the Privy Council, and it is wrong in principle. You either have a free press or you don’t. You can’t sell the pass, and admit the principle of regulation – because it is in the nature of regulation that it swells and grows. You can’t be a little bit pregnant.

Every day I see signs of investor confidence in London – and why do international companies and individuals want to put their money in the British capital? It is not just because of our bikes and our beautiful new buses. It is because of the rule of law, the absolute certainty over title, the virtual absence of corruption. They know that the British system is as transparent and honest as any on earth, and I am afraid that is not just because of the natural purity of the British soul: it is because we have a vigorous, voracious and sometimes venomous media. And that is why the ruling classes don’t dare bend the rules, in the way they do in other countries; because no one wants to be dangled before that great media beast and look into its bloodshot yellow eyes and feel the hot carnivorous breath of its displeasure.

I am afraid it is inevitable that a vigorous media will cause occasional heartache, and dish out the odd uncalled-for insult. It strikes me that Ed Miliband was well within his rights to stick up for his father, for instance. But you can’t regulate the press just because they are insulting, or subversive, or find stories in tainted sources. We need someone to tell us that we are all being spied on by the American security services – that strikes me as being an invaluable bit of news, if hardly surprising. And if papers are genuinely at risk of compromising our national security by their revelations, then we have the D-notice system – to which all editors subscribe – to keep them in order.

The last and most powerful point against any new regulation of papers is that it is so completely pointless. We live in a world in which vast quantities of news can be instantly disseminated across the internet, and by companies way beyond any conceivable reach of parliament or government.

So I hope the press will tell the Privy Council to stick it in the privy; and if you are bothered by those nasty people from the media, and they won’t go away, and they continue to sit outside your house asking questions to which you have already told them the answer, may I recommend that you do as my children and I once did years ago. We imitated Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, and we stuffed bananas secretly up the reporter’s tailpipe, and I remember us laughing helplessly at her air of puzzlement as she kaboing-ed up the road. Far better than regulation.

Tax relief is just the ticket to placate hard-hit commuters

And yet for millions of people who have to use buses every day – and who have no choice about which mode to use – the feeling is very different. If you have to use public transport morning and night, then you know that it can take a huge slice of your income – and that is why we politicians cast around so desperately for ways to reduce the burden.

Every autumn we face the same dilemma. If we follow the pleas of our officials, and raise fares – to cope with inflation and the cost of investing in our systems – we are tightening the squeeze on people who have already seen their disposable income shrink over the past five years.

If we are irresponsible, on the other hand, and we fail to replenish the “fare box”, then we risk disaster. We are coping with the oldest underground train network in the world, and with a city that is growing faster than any other European capital. If people are to have any hope of living near their place of work, we have to supply them with adequate trains, buses and Tubes. We cut costs at every opportunity – selling buildings, introducing automation, axing bureaucracy – but the trouble with a universal fares freeze is that it takes a huge chunk out of the budget. It means indefinitely postponing or cancelling schemes that are essential for growth, such as replacing the clapped-out signalling on the District line, or ordering new trains for the Piccadilly.

And then there is a second problem with an across-the-board fares cut – namely, that it is a hopelessly blunt instrument. Think of me luxuriating there on the Oxford Street bus, on my once-in-a-blue-moon shopping trip. Do I need a fare cut? Think of the millions of tourists who use our transport networks every day, and who probably don’t even notice how much they are paying. Would they be any more inclined to come to this country if the cost of their urban transport was a little lower? Do they need or deserve an abatement in their fares? I don’t really think so.

Look around you on the bus, and you will see that almost 40 per cent of the complement are travelling free or at cut price: the pensioners with their Freedom Passes, the kids, the veterans, the disabled, those in search of work. No politician is easily going to remove these concessions (try telling the affluent bourgeoisie that their Freedom Pass is at risk, and see what mayhem ensues).

The result is that the entire burden of fare-paying is carried by the 60 per cent – and that includes the people who make this country work, the people on low or moderate incomes who travel large distances every day to their places of employment and who have absolutely no choice in the matter. It is time we did something specifically to help them, and that something is to give tax relief on travel.

We need a scheme that is analogous to the government help currently given to child-care vouchers or cycle-to-work schemes. Employees should be allowed to pay for their season tickets from their pre-tax income.

To see what I mean, take a customer who buys an annual bus pass for £784. At present, he or she buys that season ticket after paying tax. Under the tax relief scheme, the employer would buy the season ticket and deduct the cost from his or her pay packet – and only then would the employee be assessed for tax. With their taxable pay reduced, the employee would save £251 in tax and National Insurance, and the employer would save £108. The administration costs would be kept minimal by doing it all online, and of course the relief would only apply at the basic rate.

Yes, there would be a cost to the Treasury – but then every year the government spends huge sums trying to hold fares down. This scheme strikes me as one George should consider further. You would allow continued investment in transport, and you would target your help at exactly the people who need it – not the millionaires and the tourists and the casual shoppers, but the hardworking people who are really turning the wheels of recovery.

Crystal Palace exhibition hall ‘to rise again’

A new Crystal Palace on "the same size and scale" as the original gigantic iron and glass structure is to rise again on the south London site.

The surrounding public park is also to be restored "to its former glory through landscaping, planting and new and improved facilities for the public," a spokesman for Chinese investment firm, ZhongRong Group, said.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson welcomed the development, saying south London "will once again acquire a world-class cultural attraction".

The original Crystal Palace was designed by Joseph Paxton for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. It was later expanded and relocated to south London, but was destroyed by fire in 1936. The area became known as Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace was built by Joseph Paxton for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park (Photo: REX FEATURES)

Boris Johnson grilled over political future on radio phone-in

London Mayor Boris Johnson said he did not know whether he would stand again as an MP after being repeatedly questioned about his ambitions by a caller on live radio.

There has been growing speculation that the mayor could stand for Parliament before the end of his term in 2016 and David Cameron has discussed the possibility of Mr Johnson returning to the Commons.

Asked about his ambitions on LBC 97.3 he said: "It was very kind of the Prime Minister to say what he said and obviously I want to be as supportive as I can. But I've got a very big job to do and that's what I'm going to do."

But caller Tony from Woodford pressed Mr Johnson to give a "straight answer" to the question about his future ambitions.

Asked whether he would like to become an MP the mayor replied: "I would like to play rugby for England ... this is worse than Jeremy Paxman."

A return for Boris MP is embraced by Cameron

When asked later if he wants to lead the Conservatives, Mr Johnson said: “My leadership chances are, as I may have told you before, about as good as my chances of being reincarnated as a baked bean.” But he added: “Which are probably quite high actually.” He then refused to rule out running in the 2015 election. The Prime Minister has been overshadowed by Mr Johnson at previous conferences. In his speech yesterday the mayor urged party activists to “cut the yellow Lib Dem albatross from around our necks” by helping Mr Cameron to an outright victory in 2015.

The Prime Minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he would give Mr Johnson a “warm welcome” if he returned to Westminster politics.

“My message to him is that … it would be great to have you back in the House of Commons at some stage contributing to public life,” Mr Cameron said.

He later said that “it’s not for me to pick my successor [and] the Conservative Party will do that when the time comes.”

He told Five News: “He’s a very talented member of the team and I like the fact that I have got talent on the team. That is good for the Conservative Party and potentially very good for the Government.”

Mr Cameron said he has had “conversations” with the mayor about the possibility of him returning to Westminster.

“Boris and I talk all the time,” he said. “There is no agreement or deal or anything like that but we have friendly conversations about this but my view about this is very simple – it’s up to Boris.”

Mr Cameron also said he would be putting himself “forward for a full term” in the 2015 election.

Despite backing Mr Cameron, the mayor used his speech to criticise George Osborne, the Chancellor, over the “baleful” impact of stamp duty. He said it is “stamping on the fingers” of people trying to climb the property ladder.

He also said that British young people lack the motivation and work ethic of Eastern European immigrants. He backed comments by Jamie Oliver, the television chef, and said the Government needs to encourage teenagers to see “menial” jobs as “stepping stones”.

Mr Johnson praised the prime minister as the “only statesman in the European Union” capable of delivering reform and a referendum for the British. He said that voters will have to choose between the “fool’s gold” offered by Labour and a Conservative Party that has taken “difficult and sensible” decisions.

Sketch: Boris dives into the glorified sheepdip

Boris and David Cameron are supposed to be on good terms at the moment – the Prime Minister even told the Today programme that Boris should “absolutely” be an MP again. After the speech, a mob of journalists – or, if you prefer, a ginormous convocation of worms – followed Boris round the exhibition hall, asking him whether he agreed. He didn’t seem desperately keen to answer.

Would he look for a seat in 2015? “There’s been no change in what I’ve said in the last five years, and I’ll continue to say it until I’m blue in the face and blue in every other portion of my anatomy!” What seat would he like? “It’s got a kind of spongy bottom, and it swivels, and it’s to be discovered in the office of City Hall!” Was he going to keep fudging the question? “Yes.”

Around the hall, little old ladies looked up from their tea, waved excitedly and trilled, “Ooh, hello, Boris!” Others pointed admiringly at his hair, which more than ever resembled an upturned colander of spaghetti. Goodness knows how he gets it looking so messy. It must take hours of preparation.

Fortunately for the convocation of worms, when Boris is in what Bridget Jones calls “full autowitter” he generally blurts out a gobbet of truth sooner or later. “My leadership chances, as I may have told you before, are about as good as my chances of being reincarnated as a baked bean. Which are probably quite high, actually…”

What did it all mean? Was Boris really plotting a Westminster comeback? Or had he privately concluded that Mayor is the job that suits him best: maximum publicity, minimum pain? Does anyone know? Does Boris?

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