Boris Johnson has unveiled his green transport policy – free cycling lessons. Not for all Londoners, but for Ken Livingstone, the man he is trying to oust as Mayor of London, who admits he can't ride a bike.
The Tory candidate, a keen cyclist, praised Mr Livingstone's plans for a Paris-style scheme to hire out 6,000 bikes from street corner stands in central London but could not resist drawing attention to the Mayor's wobbly credentials as a cyclist at the first hustings of the Mayoral election campaign.
Boris Johnson from www.friction.tv
Mr Johnson won the biggest laugh of yesterday's 100-minute session when he said Mr Livingstone should "lead by personal example and learn to ride a bike". He told the Mayor: "I am willing to give free lessons – in complete safety and discretion. It is high time that, like me and every other cyclist in London, you face the full horror of trying to overtake a bendy bus." Mr Livingstone was not amused.
Mr Johnson was on good form as he poked fun at his rival. He explained that the meeting started seven minutes late because Mr Livingstone was delayed by London's transport problems.
Ken Livngstone from www.friction.tv
But for the most part, it was Serious Boris rather than Buffoon Boris on show. His blond thatch has been shorn for the contest, and his suit was smart rather than scruffy. There were none of the gaffes that have punctuated his political career.
His only minor blip was to talk about the bike hire scheme that Mr Livingstone was going to launch. He corrected himself swiftly. "I am going to introduce it," he said, and got another laugh.
The Tories' private polls show Mr Livingstone and Mr Johnson running neck and neck. Labour officials admit their man faces the biggest fight of his life as he seeks a third term. Some had predicted that the Blond Bombshell would have self-destructed by now but it hasn't happened.
Senior Tories are hoping that Boris remains on his best behaviour. "Every time he does open his mouth, we keep our fingers crossed," one admitted. "We will be sweating right up to 1 May."
Mr Livingstone looked cool throughout yesterday's hustings, helped perhaps by his linen suit. He couldn't match Mr Johnson for humour but was scathing about the Tory's green credentials. A relatively mild-mannered debate finally caught fire in extra time when the Mayor accused his Tory challenger of talking "an awful lot of hypocrisy" and "posing as Green" after previously attacking environmentalists in his Daily Telegraph columns.
He said: "You can't have candidates saying 'I am in favour of nuclear power and I am terribly green' ... that 'I am going to be the greenest mayor ever but I applauded George Bush for not signing the Kyoto treaty'. It is rubbish." Mr Johnson barked back: "Stuff and nonsense."
The mayoral race is not a two-horse one, although it feels like one. Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate, was well-received by a sympathetic audience at the event, organised by the Green Alliance. She landed a well-targeted blow on her three male rivals, describing them as "men in suits" who would agree with most of her environmental policies. The public had to ask whether they trusted them to implement them, she said.
Sian Berry from www.friction.tv
The Liberal Democrat candidate, Brian Paddick, the gay former senior Metropolitan Police officer, objected to being called a "suit" even though he was wearing a smart one. "I think people would raise a few eyebrows if I turned up in a dress," he said.
Burnishing his green credentials, Mr Paddick suggested that he would have the smallest carbon footprint of the four candidates on the platform. He didn't own a car, he walked everywhere, he had had the heating on in his one-bedroom flat for only 45 minutes this winter. Vote Liberal Democrat for lower fuel bills –and feeling cold.
Brian Paddick from www.friction.tv
Mr Livingstone promised that, by 2010, the Thames would be the cleanest river in a major capital and people would start swimming in it. Surprisingly, Boris did not offer him free swimming lessons.
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