Everywhere I go in Manhattan I meet British tourists. ‘Oi, Boris,’ they shout across the street, ‘who let you out, then?’ How come it is the Brits, with their puny devalued pounds, who are swarming through the streets of New York, when the New Yorkers have stopped coming to London? Tourism from North America to London has fallen by 21 per cent. That is why I am over here leading a London delegation. We are here to fly the flag for our city, to drum up investment, to illustrate the sensational value represented by sterling denominated assets — and before you even ask, let me assure you that my mission is not costing the taxpayer a red cent.
The big political question here is still health care. Obama is a beautiful guy, everyone says, but does he have the muscle? Can he deliver? People try to get me to comment. They want to hear a ruling from a Brit. They want to hear my views on our wonderful National Health Service. My strong instinct is swerve. As the man says in Dodgeball — the world’s greatest ever film — dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge.
If cornered, I play my ace. I point out that I was born 45 years ago in New York, because that is where my parents lived, and I wanted to be close to my mother at the time. My parents were both impecunious students, and therefore qualified for the Puerto Rican health programme. My nativity was funded through the generosity of the taxpayers of New York City. This makes me not only a New Yorker but an honorary Puerto Rican. This point goes over big.
I can assure you that we have worked like blazes over the past few days, but one of the joys has been driving around in the care of Mayor Bloomberg’s police detail. It is a very detailed detail. He has no fewer than 30 officers assigned to him, all of them seemingly enormous, charming and good-humoured cops. Such is Mike Bloomberg’s Olympian authority that he has not only banned smoking throughout the city, but also issued a fatwa against some forms of margarine. The whole thing makes me feel a bit inadequate. But then I suppose he is the 108th Mayor of New York, and I am only the second Mayor of London.
Our arrival coincides with the launch of Mike’s re-election campaign. There is a delicate moment as we discuss what he would like me to say about this. I like him and hugely admire the things he has done. But it is not the done thing to intervene in the election of a friendly city, is it? Mike gently puts me out of my misery. He is not sure that my endorsement will be decisive. Indeed, he says, it might even help if I vigorously endorsed his opponent.
You should see the fuss they make when they open the Nasdaq. Every morning as 9.30 approaches they do a moonshot countdown, with the running dogs of capitalism whooping and hollering like some Wild West saloon. On Monday I have the honour of pressing the bell to start the day’s trading. I press the buzzer and, of course, the markets start to fall.
Mind you, they pick up during the day. By the time we arrive to close the New York Stock Exchange at 4 p.m., they are up 21 points. The place has the air of a JD Wetherspoon in the middle of the afternoon, with people leaning up against bars and gossiping moodily. One of the traders says he is a lifelong reader of this magazine. How long is it going to last? I ask him, referring to the rally that has been going on since March. ‘I don’t know,’ he says. ‘I don’t know what’s keeping it up.’ The following day, Tuesday, it seems to be up again.
No one in New York can understand the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Nor can I. If the guy was convicted of murdering 270 people in cold blood, then he should serve his term. If the conviction was unsafe, they should overturn it. What you cannot do is strike some secret oil-for-prisoners deal with Libya and then hope that no one will notice. How can the government not have a view on this? What is the point of having a bleeding government?
I made these points to a newspaper and the following day I heard myself indicated by a passer-by. ‘Hey, it’s that guy Bruno something. He said some great things about the Libya bomber.’
At Ground Zero you still feel enveloped by the aura of evil and disaster that surrounds the place. It will only be gone when they have built the Freedom Tower, a vast glass stalagmite that will replace the World Trade Center. Everyone in New York seems to know someone who died. Everyone knows someone who was there on the day — or else they were there themselves. That is why they find the Lockerbie deal so bewildering.
In extolling the diversity of the London economy I make much of a Walthamstow cake factory that manages to export £5 million worth of chocolate cake, fudge cake and brownies every year. And where does it send this cake? France! The soi-disant home of cakes. So my message to Sarkozy: never mind your designs on London’s finance industry — look to the health of your cake industry. My message to the people of France: let them eat cake, made in Walthamstow.
Speaking to the media in Times Square, I am very proud to be surrounded by loads of cameras. Then it turns out they have come for the Belgian winner of the Women’s US Open tennis. A tourist takes my picture and then asks, ‘Who is that guy?’ He’s the Mayor of London, says one of my team. ‘Oh really,’ says the tourist, ‘where is he from?’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated September 19, 2009