Last week, I took a black cab from Baker street to Cornwall Terrace. We went round Regents park, wasting time and money while the actual place I needed was barely 3 minutes walk away. I did not know. I had left my A-Z at home and I had been hoodwinked.
So I have some sympathy for Boris Johnson’s outburst yesterday.
Boris claims that his irritation with a London cabbie was “a gentle attempt at a return service” or rather ”getting the ball back over the net.” Wimbledon metaphors at the start of the season.
If you check the footage that has leaked on to the internet, it is clear that the Mayor of London was having the last word as the cabbie drove away and quite frankly, was unlikely to have been heard. We also do not have the beginning of the exchange. The cabbie himself, so far unnamed, had leant out of the window to castigate Johnson for not standing up to the competing taxi firm UBER – He was making a hand-gesture, but it is too dark to be sure exactly what that gesture was. “You’re one of them, mate,” says the cabbie and then drives off as Johnson vents, “why don’t you fuck off and die (twice) and not in that order”. Johnson then appears to chuckle.
It is the final moments that are both disquieting and disarming in equal measure.
Quite apart from anything else, I wonder why someone was able to film the incident in the first place- or was this a set -up?
While a Boris rant is not an edifying spectacle, it is of a very different order to the angry exchange outside the gates of Number 10 by chief whip Andrew Mitchell, and far, far different to the David Mellor thing a year ago, which was just rank pomposity from a man well-past his prime! However, the inference of “Go and die” remains distasteful, whether meant as a humorous rebuke or not. The final words, “and in that order” make absolutely no sense and suggest that the mayor was fumbling to seize some superior wit, which, for once, escaped. It was after midnight and he was probably tired. This is not Oscar Wilde and not one of Johnson’s better days.
UBER taxi app, a car service accessible to the smart-phone generation, is criticized for not being properly regulated, whose drivers are often uninsured while it is competing directly with both the minicab and black cabbie trade. Boris is, therefore, coming under attack for his perceived support of UBER. Steve MacNamara of the Licenced Taxi Rankers Association said, “TfL recommended last week that UBER’s licence be revoked and it wasn’t and people are starting to ask questions why.”
UBER began 3 years ago, and according to the company, now runs 15000 cars with over 1000 new drivers starting in London every month. At the same time, there has been a 20% drop in applications for the black cabbie licence. That means that less taxis in London are today equipped with or tested in “the knowledge”, the city-wide recognition of streets and sites (which should ensure any cabbie would have known immediately where Cornwall Terrace was). At the same time, the dramatic increase in taxis threatens to add to London’s congestion problems.
The cabbies have mounted a legal challenge to UBER, claiming the use of smartphones to log journeys was dodgy, but they are more concerned, I think, that Boris has not followed the example of Madrid and Paris and banned the company from operating in London altogether. Maybe what is needed now, though, is a challenge to UBER on its own terms- maybe the London cabbie service needs to set up its own smart app, and while it’s at it, maybe it needs to lower its prices and become more competitive.
And as for the swearing? Well, not really the stuff of a Prime Minister in waiting, is it? But Nixon did it (and regularly on tape) and made it to President- But Boris will bounce back. I know him from of old and have every confidence in him.