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10 Questions for Boris Johnson

4 minute read
Belinda Luscombe

What are you doing in the U.S. this close to the Olympics? How are you going to make the London Games memorable after Beijing?
I don’t want to sound complacent, but to a quite remarkable degree we’ve got our preparations on track. Beijing was wonderful, but we don’t have the capacity to spend half our defense budget on fireworks. It will be a party. Obviously we’re hoping to see a big, big turnout from America.

In your book Johnson’s Life of London, you claim London invented the Internet. Are you quite sure?
Absolutely. Tim Berners-Lee.

But he was in Geneva at the time.
He was born in London.

Geneva has nothing. Just the Convention. Why are you trying to take away the Internet?
Geneva has the Geneva Bible. And extremely officious traffic wardens.

You also claim, controversially, that it wasn’t Thomas Crapper who invented the toilet.
It was a guy called John Harrington who was a courtier of Queen Elizabeth I. And that is why in America a toilet is still referred to as a john. Thomas Crapper was more of the drains man.

Does Keith Richards really belong in a book about important historical figures from Britain?
What was the most important mass-culture art form of the 20th century? It’s unquestionably rock ‘n’ roll. The Beatles first, but then particularly the Stones, were at the heart of really taking R&B, taking the blues and selling them back to Americans. I think it’d be fair to say the Stones took music that musicians in America didn’t feel they could play themselves and made it somehow acceptable to send it back.

There is a perception that bankers who find Wall Street too risk-averse go to London. Should British banks be more regulated?
Regulation, to me, is not the problem. The problem at the moment is the euro zone and the complete inability of European leaders to come up with a convincing answer. They’re neither going forward to the fiscal union nor rupturing the currency and bisecting it. It’s the uncertainty. The euro-zone balloon needs to burst one way or the other before the whole thing can move on.

You endorsed Barack Obama last time around. Did he endorse you for your recent mayoral run?
I don’t think he did. It may not have been top of his in-tray.

Which system of electing officials do you think is better–the British or the American?
There’s a great advantage in having a direct mandate in the way that a mayor does or a President does because no one can say you’re there by dint of some party machine. That gives you a good position to say things and get things done. I can get things done very fast in a way that I think many Secretaries of State, many of my friends in Cabinet, can’t.

You’re a conservative. Can you explain your support for socialized medicine?
Americans always look at our system with disbelief and disapproval, but actually we make it work. Nobody goes untreated, no matter how poor or rich they are. I think that is very reassuring for people. I understand the arguments against it, but it’s something that everybody buys into, everybody believes in, and it works. It shows that there is something that really binds us together.

There are many mayors across the U.S. whose towns are really struggling. Is there any piece of advice you could give them?
Be a booster of your city. My hero is the mayor in Jaws. He’s a fantastic guy, and he keeps the beaches open, if you remember, even after it’s demonstrated that his constituents have been eaten by this killer fish. Of course he was proved catastrophically wrong in his judgment, but his instincts were right.

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