In the early 1990s, when Boris Johnson was making his name as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, Sonia Purnell was his deputy, and last year she published a biography of him — the second, and surely not the last — entitled Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition. Now follows Pedal Power: How Boris Failed London’s Cyclists (Aurum Press, £2.05), which is described as an ebook but is more accurately a (badly written) epamphlet.
There are ‘votes in cycling’, as she puts it, ‘in a way that there never has been before’, and she means to sway those votes in the imminent mayoral election. She is, though, a more effective biographer than a polemicist. She is quite right to point out that the new ‘cycling superhighways’ are hopeless, but her other arguments lack traction.
London’s cycle hire scheme may have been Ken Livingstone’s idea, but Boris has implemented it with panache, and has benefited from its popularity: Purnell hardly damages him by noting that this year ‘there were signs of some disaffection at continuing technical issues’.
Similarly, the number of bike journeys in London is indeed ‘puny’ compared to those in Amsterdam (which is a tenth the size), but under Boris it has increased to twice the national average. There were 16 cycling deaths in London last year, but the fatality rate has fallen. And so on.
One suspects that her heart is not really in it, and remains secretly in thrall to what she calls her old boss’s ‘joyous charm’.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated April 28, 2012Tags: Book review, Bookends, Boris Johnson, London, London Mayor, Non-fiction, Politics (UK)