Racing cars in the capital? He's playing dirty

We've all done it. Worn down by life's pressures we wake up one morning and forget who we are. We stumble into consciousness possessed by our dreams. We may even imagine we are princes of a realm where the sun shines and the landscape is spectacular, where the fabulously rich come to play and the ridiculously fast come to race. Somewhere like Monaco. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, had just such a giddy turn last week.

"Hosting the grand prix in London would be an extraordinary event, setting the world's greatest motorsport contest against the backdrop of London's world-renowned streets and landmarks," he said.

He had just watched a clutch (is that the correct collective noun?) of 900-horse power Formula One racing cars tear up the asphalt in the centre of our capital. Like they do in Monaco.

Is this the same Ken who just a few short weeks ago described 4x4 vehicles as "bad for London - completely unnecessary" and then, to my great joy, denounced their owners as "complete idiots"? It is. He was echoing Paris City Council, which plans to ban gas-guzzling, people-squishing, 4X4 road hogs from the streets of the French capital.

The Parisians put it thus: "These vehicles emit almost four times as much carbon dioxide as more environmentally friendly cars. Some consume up to 24 litres of fuel per 100km on an urban traffic cycle." Of course, Ken was completely against them - in May. But come July, F1 cars (24 litres of fuel per 29km) on the streets of London are just fine by him.

Not just tolerable, but a boon for London. Ken has told his new best friend Bernie Ecclestone (the F1 boss), "We are very serious about this, we will bust a gut to put on the best race in the world." We, and I speak as a Londoner, will also pay Mr Ecclestone somewhere between £11m and £15m for the privilege.

True, London will also make money. Ken reckons we might attract two million additional tourists to the event, who may spend some £50m. But, more importantly, London would also use the Grand Prix to raise its profile as a tourist destination. Really?

Is it really the case that what works for Monaco must do the same for London? Monaco is Europe's second-smallest state - with a population 32,000 and an area of 0.76 square miles. As a "country", it is insignificant - the Monegasques need all the help they can get simply to convince themselves they exist. Turning the principality into a race track once a year gets them noticed.

By contrast, London sprawls across 620 square miles and has a population of over seven million people. It is the biggest city in Europe and it is already amongst the best established tourist destinations on the planet. Do we need all the hassle of major works, the years of road closures and the inevitable traffic mayhem that would ensue if we tried to create a Grand Prix track in the middle of London?

Do we need stunts to draw the world's attention?

It may be relatively boring and unglamorous - but what we need is cleaner air, safer streets and more reliable public transport. We need to ensure the millions of tourists, who already visit, get the kind of quality experience that makes them want to return.

To borrow Citizen Ken's language, the idea of a Formula One Grand Prix on the streets of London is "completely unnecessary" and it follows that those who support it are "complete idiots". Prince Ken however has a dream - that the capital of the fourth-largest economy in the world - can be turned into Ruritania-on-Thames.

Left luggage

Our relationship with budget airlines seems to follow the pattern of abusive relationships. We have built up a dependency on them to the point where we cannot tear ourselves away no matter how badly we are treated. Ryanair has just announced that it is taking the concept of "no frills" down another notch. Next year anyone checking in a bag can expect to pay up to £50 per item if the airline's boss, Michael O'Leary, gets his way. He reckons luggage is a "state of mind". Try telling that to a family of four struggling to get away for their two weeks in the sun.

But none of this seems to affect the rise and rise of the budget squadrons. Ryanair carried 2.27 million passengers last month, a rise of 24 per cent. It is now the largest budget airline in Europe. But easyJet with 2.24 million passengers is snapping at its wing tips - a 28 per cent increase on last year. Both airlines saw their share prices rise last week.

This weekend Ryanair is offering a million flights at 99p in a "winter sale". Maybe such deals take our mind off the realities of the bargain flight - even after we have fought our way to Stansted or Luton at ungodly hours, endured indefinite delays without food or refreshment, and then been dumped thoroughly frazzled in a European field miles from anywhere recognisable.

Now Ryanair is making us another offer we won't be able to refuse - travel without luggage. It just confirms the sneaking suspicion that as far as budget airlines are concerned, the real excess baggage is us - passengers.

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Here we go, here we go, here we go. Summer's here and the hormones are stirring in the street of shame. It is time to send our lusty tabloid hacks off on their annual jolly to Ibiza, Ayia Napa et al to rehash last year's booze and sex stories with a fresh helping of feigned outrage.

Mirror readers got their pound of flesh on Friday under a headline promising "Threesomes, oral sex and handcuffs". There followed an X-rated tale about a "terrified Scots teenager" who ended up on a party boat in the "scandal-hit resort". Quite what the 16-year-old and her two friends were expecting given the deluge of "bad" publicity Ayia Napa had last year is not explained.

The shocked reporter pointed out, "News of the orgy swept the resort like wildfire - but the only concern from tourists was how to get into the party".

Tickets were scarce, presumably because they had all been snapped up by Fleet Street's finest.

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