"Roubles will Open up the British Road"
LONDON'S Mayor Ken Livingstone is set to announce an exciting plan to make this old seat of Empire a Fun City for the World.
Among the radical innovations is a plan to close the busy North and South Circular roads to traffic and join them into a motor racing circuit. The plan will involve diverting more traffic out to the M25, and some relocation of homes, but the Mayor's team say any problems will be more than offset by the increased visitor attraction and the revenue this will bring.
The road racing plan was foreshadowed two years ago when Ken Livingstone, flush with promises to save the environment with congestion charge, closed off parts of the West End one Tuesday evening for a Formula One show. The mayor told reporters then the capital could host a Formula One Grand Prix by 2007. Shrugging off worries about disruption, he said he had been discussing the idea with Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone for some time.
"It would probably bring two million people to London and we're really up for it," Livingstone said.
About 500,000 people saw eight F1 cars drive on a course laid out between Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus. The event had to be cut short because of the large numbers of people attending. But Livingstone said the capital could easily handle the organisation required for a race. "These things can easily be managed as long as you plan properly, and nobody ever questioned Bernie Ecclestone's planning abilities."
With the turn to racing round the suburbs, Livingstone's team predict the economy will gain. "We are reaping in the roubles from Russian investors already," said the Mayor's economic adviser John Gross, "and competing for more from the Middle East. The really hot money is always looking for new places to invest. London is like a laundry - you have to keep stuff going round before it's ready to take out."
"He means traffic", whispered an aide.
One-time leftie agitator Gross spent some years in Russia watching privatisation getting sway. Now he says "Business used to worry when we had the docks, and we had Jack Dash. Now docklands is for rich yuppies and we're making sure that we, I mean Londoners, get the dosh".
His optimism was seconded by Transport policy adviser Redrum O'Deal.
"We had complaints about congestion charge from West End businesses, though people driving their four-by-fours from Chelsea and Chiswick should have seen we were easing the streets by pricing the chavs on to the crowded tube. But with this, we won't have to worry about disrupting the centre or paying out large sums in compensation to anybody. You might get some nimbys - "not in my back yard", but let's face it, out in Neasden they are used to petrol fumes and planning blight, and anyway the property values aren't so high."
To counter anticipated moanings from environmentalists and what my informant called "boring old farts in the unions who keep moaning we're for the rich", a keen supporter of the mayor's policies, Marvin Gulliver, is to write a pamphlet enthusiastically setting out the benefits of the racing plan. Friends are calling him "Pitstop Bob".
As I was leaving City Hall last night I heard a jolly carousing chorus clearly rejoicing over the plan they would announce, with a song they are calling "The Chequered Flag":
"When Londoners cried out for homes,
We gave them a millennium Dome,
And while commuters had a moan,
We talked with Bernie Ecclestone,
Developers can build on high!
We'll raise our salaries to the sky!
Our streets like rags will reek of oil,
The checquered flag for sons of toil!
As I was leaving I nearly collided with a red-faced balding but familiar looking man mumbling something about newts. He weighed me up, and asked:
"Didn't you use to be a Butlin's redcoat?"
I assured him I had not, but he said"Well, you're still in it for the money. Just like the rest of us."
Turning to a cleaner he told him to work harder "Or you can go back and see how you like it under the Ayatollahs!" The butt of his jibe stammered that he was from Ireland, not Iran, but by then the mayor had gone.
(with thanks for additional material from Avril Furst).