“Look, it’s that geezer that plays football! Didn’t you see him play football on the telly that time!” Up goes the shout round Smithfield Market as the Mayor of London conducts a Presidential-style walkabout of the City of London’s last remaining working market (by which we mean ‘market full of honest working class blokes selling proper stuff wholesale,’ not market as in, ‘place to buy over-priced tat off students’).
It’s 7am and BoJo is in full meet-and-greet mode. “Morning, morning,” he blusters as he sweeps down the Grand Avenue of the 800-year-old market grabbing the hands of more or less startled bumerees (we’re not casting aspersions, that is what the market porters are actually called). But, unusually, Boris struggles to get a word in.
“Oi! Boris! You were better looking last time I saw you!” shouts one. Boris grins through his good-natured mauling at the hands of Essex’s finest. “I don’t like you, I like Ken!” shouts another.
Then the complaints start. “Since the Congestion Charge started we have to pay to get home. We come to work at 3am and there’s no public transport then so we have to drive. Now the market’s all finished by 7am – cos all the customers want to get off before the Charge – it used to go till noon.” “We’re dying on our feet, Boris.’’ “The place is dead. Let your eyes be your guide, Boris.”
The Mayor pauses briefly before a sign saying ‘BJ Meats’. Market trader humour could have gone to town with that one, but luckily we were soon moving again. “What do you want me to do?” says Boris, addressing the market traders’ call for a Congestion Charge exemption zone. “You want me to make a fortress Smithfield? A kind of Gaza strip? I can’t. I’d love to, but the lawyers tell me it would never stand up in a court of law. Every night worker in London would want the same exception – and there are tens of thousands of them.”
You have to feel sorry for Boris Johnson – everywhere the face of London goes in his crumpled black suit he faces special interest groups pleading their special cases and cheeky buggers shouting out praise, or worse.