Gummer catches a bus to seek praise for capital: The minister for London wants residents' opinions on a 'great city', writes David Nicholson-Lord

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JOHN Gummer was having no truck with whingers and malcontents yesterday. Nor did he take kindly to aspersions that life in London might be less than wonderful. Least of all did he want to hear anything about local government for the capital. That sort of talk, he declared, was divisive.

Mr Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, minister for London and one of a group which believes that the capital's quality of life has improved in recent years, was launching what he called the largest consultation exercise to discover Londoners' views of their city.

With the title London - Making the best better, a glossy publication will be available free from news stands this week detailing the city's assets and containing a six-point questionnaire which Londoners are asked to fill in and send to Mr Gummer. About 250,000 will be distributed, at a cost of pounds 165,000.

The consultation will be 'totally open', Mr Gummer said - except that any talk of a new authority for London will be ignored. 'It doesn't address any of the problems. It's a silly argument. All it does is divide us. We should be concentrating on what unites us.'

Mr Gummer launched the exercise at Tower Bridge before setting off on a red bus to visit the London Tourist Board.

The document paints a rosy picture of the capital as a 'world leader in finance and culture, with a rich heritage of amenities and parks'. Mr Gummer denied the questions were loaded and said MORI had described it as an 'extremely good' questionnaire.

Top of his list of London's assets were shopping, transport and health services. 'Clearly it is a very great city, a centre, for health services.' He added: 'I am not interested in whingers. Don't say the city is falling apart because it is manifestly not true.' He also rejected suggestions that he was an 'absentee' minister for London. He had a home in Ealing, west London, as well as one in his Suffolk constituency, he said.

The results of the exercise will be fed into London Pride, a private/public partnership designed to promote the city.

Frank Dobson, Labour's spokesman on London, said later that four out of five Londoners were in favour of a directly elected strategic authority for London. He added: 'Mr Gummer asks people what can London learn from other cities. The answer is other cities have the right to vote.'


1. What do you most appreciate about London?

2. Thinking about one of the things you like most about London, how could it be improved?

3. What can London learn from other cities?

4. What aspects of London do you think are off-putting to visitors?

5. What aspects of London do you think are attractive to visitors and businesses?

6. Have you any other suggestions for improving London?

(Photographs omitted)