What if Boris cared about Greenwich? An election day fantasy
It’s been the most dismal, depressing election campaign I can remember. If we’re voting, we’re voting for one man merely to stop the other bloke getting in. Something’s wrong with that.
For a campaign full of lies and smears, though, one of the final porkies took place above the skies of Greenwich. Wednesday’s Evening Standard devoted its page three to a big picture of the Greenwich cable car in operation, with words by City Hall reporter Peter Dominiczack, who’s seemingly spent the past few months simply taking dictation from the mayor’s team.
High above the Thames, London’s first cable car has its maiden flight.
Three gondolas were suspended in mid-air today after moving off just before 10am — the first test of the city’s newest river crossing.
The cars did not appear to be carrying any passengers, though they could transport athletes at the Olympics if they are completed in time and will eventually carry up to 10 people per trip.
Onlookers at North Greenwich, on the south side of the cable car run, were impressed by the project, despite its £60 million price tag, and said they hoped it would bring more people to the area.
Unfortunately for the Boris campaign rag, the gondolas have been under test for 10 days or so, as readers of greenwich.co.uk will know.
“The Emirates Airline cable car took a step closer to completion yesterday as moving cable car gondolas were sighted for the first time.”
All of which proves which news outfit you can trust in future, and which is only good for soaking up the cat litter. But what if Boris Johnson had done something more substantial with our local transport? How would we be feeling about him today? Here’s a blog post I could have written, if only he’d cared…
“Well if I can’t take London back to Victorian forms of transport, then what is the point of having a Conservative mayor?,” puffed Boris Johnson as he coasted over the Blackwall Tunnel approach and down the slope on his blue bicycle.
Ten minutes earlier, the mayor had cut the ribbon on something he could call his own. The New Tower Bridge, some critics were calling it. Tory-leaning bloggers were calling it the Boris Bridge. And that was the name that stuck.
But the sleek blue Diamond Jubilee Bridge, open only to pedestrians and cyclists, was the gamble upon which Boris Johnson was trying to win over the capital for a second term.
The project had its critics. Labour MPs called it a “vanity project”. The Evening Standard said “it is hard to see why the Mayor persists with this project when the hard-pressed motorists of Chelsea still have to pay an outrageous congestion charge,” referring to his controversial U-turn in 2011 on the charge’s western extension.
The £300m Diamond Jubilee Bridge, from the Isle of Dogs to North Greenwich, ended up having to be bailed out by Chancellor George Osborne when promised sponsorship money didn’t turn up. Could it be finished before campaigning begun in the mayoral election? Safety engineers had only cleared it the previous week, but as a the bridge’s arms lifted for a cruise liner to pass through with a lengthy toot of its horn, it was clear that this would be as important for the area as the Jubilee Line was thirteen years beforehand.
From a spiral ramp at Marsh Wall on the Isle of Dogs, the bridge crossed the Thames and the Blackwall Tunnel entrances, allowing passengers to walk or ride off in front of the O2 and the London Soccerdome.
Furthermore, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme went live on the Greenwich Peninsula that morning, allowing residents in the new homes there to cycle to work instead of taking the Tube. A further extension into Greenwich itself, through Deptford and up into the Rotherhithe would go live after the Olympics.
When the mayor was brought over to the press by his ever-attentive PR handlers, he was in ebullient mood.
“These two parts of our great city are too important to be separated,” he said, fixing journalists in the eye one by one.
“Now, like Bonnie and Clyde or Antony and Cleopatra, they are joined together by this great monument to British engineering.
“The great joy of being a Londoner is that there is so much of this great city to explore,” he added, gesturing at the under-developed peninsula around him. “Now, thanks to this bridge, soon there will be so much more to explore here.”
But didn’t people want a road crossing, asked a reporter from a suburban freesheet.
“I think these people here are happy with this new bridge,” Boris said, gesturing to a crowd who obligingly cheered. Some carried blue balloons and leaflets, but there were also a large number of curious locals too.
He continued, fixing the reporter in the eye again.
“The real issue is that you’ll never get this area developed if it has another main road running through it. But if you make this an attractive place to walk around, have your lunch in, walk the dog in, then we’ll bring investment and prosperity to the Greenwich Peninsula.
“Now look, if we can build a matching bridge from Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe, then we’re linking up communities and bringing together more parts of this great city.
“This is why I can’t afford a cut in bus fares, I need to invest,” he added, itching to get back on the election trail.
The mayor’s Conservative colleagues weren’t wasting any time, handing out leaflets to cycle hire users at the new cycle stations in the Millennium Village and retail park. Not only were they confident of victory across London, but local activists say there are signs that the party could even land a councillor in the area for the first time in decades.
Indeed, the ‘Boris effect’ had reverberated across the borough of Greenwich as the local Labour party was forced to up its game. Concerned councillors held their first public meetings in years as they feared political rivals muscling in on their patch – and they didn’t like what they heard.
“He’s proved that he isn’t all about appealling to the outer suburbs. He could have taken the lazy option and wanted to build a third Blackwall Tunnel, and spent all his time pandering to people in Bexley, but he’s challenged us on our own doorstep instead,” one political rival said. “Ken Livingstone’s had to make more than a token appearance in Woolwich this time around.”
Local Conservatives were thrilled. “Now we can campaign across the borough, instead of hiding out in Eltham or at Abbey Wood station and leafleting people who live in Bexley, which is what we normally do,” one said.
“We can tell people that Boris hasn’t spent the past four years sucking up to the suburbs and the City – if he’d done that, it would have been a waste of four years, after all.”
After conquering Greenwich with his new bridge, Boris had one more revelation – that he’d been approached by the owners of the London Eye, who wanted to build a cable car between the O2 and the Royal Docks.
“We’ll have to see about that one,” he told reporters. “That’s for fun – nobody but a fool would take a cable car seriously,” he smiled, before turning and riding back to the Isle of Dogs, a crowd of cyclists following.
There’s information on the mayoral candidates and interviews with Greenwich & Lewisham’s London Assembly candidates at greenwich.co.uk. There’s more on the poll, and where to vote, at London Elects. Polling stations close at 10pm.