Boris Johnson gives lesson on Olympic flame history

Before Mr Johnson’s history lesson the schoolchildren had enacted a demonstration of the torch relay handovers in their playground.

Around 7,000 people, many of whom are members of the public who have shown community spirit, courage and sporting determination, have been named as torchbearers.

The youngest unsung hero is 12 and each torchbearer will wear a white-and-gold uniform which been designed by adidas.

An average of 115 torchbearers a day will carry the flame during the nationwide relay, from May 19 to July 27, to the opening ceremony in Stratford, east London.

The big red bus that could take me straight back to City Hall

We got rid of Labour’s deranged and wasteful Public Private Partnership for London Underground, enabling us finally to get the new Jubilee line signalling in and to reduce delays on the entire system by 40 per cent. And that new bus incarnates our cost-cutting approach, because the entire project has been delivered for about £10 million – not much more than the annual fare evasion on the bendy buses.

You will hear my critics say that each of the first eight new buses therefore costs more than a million. This is cretinous. You might as well say that each of the first 10 new Minis cost £50 million, because the cost of developing the new Mini was about £500 million. Hundreds of those beautiful buses will be appearing on our streets, and thousands of London buses will be based on their design and technology.

They are British-designed; they boast cutting-edge innovations; they are made in Britain and deliver jobs for the people of this country (unlike the bendies, which are made in Germany); they will do much to help us meet our air quality targets; and they will cost the taxpayer roughly the same as the current fleet of hybrid buses.

Indeed, they are so fuel-efficient – going twice as far as a diesel on the same tank – that over time they might even cost less. The officers of TfL are rightly proud of their achievement, which goes back to the great traditions of the Routemaster, the last bus specifically designed for the needs of Londoners. This new bus represents the boldness of the current administration in City Hall, since we had to overcome the elf-and-safety objections against bringing back the hop-on, hop-off platform.

Above all, the new bus shows that we stick to our promises. I said I would get rid of the bendies, which infuriated motorists and posed a risk to cyclists. I said I would have a competition to design a new bus; and after initial scepticism TfL is now so pleased with the result that officials will tell any mayoral candidate that it would be foolish not to progress with the scheme.

We have delivered on just about everything I said we were going to do in 2008 – and I draw the contrast with Ken Livingstone, who shamelessly and flagrantly broke his promises, not least to cut fares. We have brought in a 24-hour freedom pass for everyone over 60, put the Oyster on the overground, planted thousands of trees, introduced bike hire – and I now seek a mandate to go further. We have cut crime by 11 per cent (with the murder rate down by a quarter and bus crime by a third), and in spite of national budget cuts we will this May have 1,000 more officers on our streets than when I was elected.

We want to go on, cutting crime, investing in local high streets and small businesses, getting the best out of the Olympics and stimulating the growth that is essential for getting young people into work. With our housing and transport investments alone we can create another 200,000 jobs in London over four years. Above all, that bus shows the technological optimism that we must now apply to the Tube. In the next term we must take historic decisions to automate London Underground, obviating the need for old-fashioned cab-based drivers; and I don’t believe that decision can be taken by a man who is ideologically and financially in the pocket of the union barons. That is the mandate I seek. I am now off to the front, and I propose to return with my shield or on it.

It’s a huge mistake to forbid a tiny act of Christian worship

As it happens, I met the good lady, by chance, on a crowded train in south-west London. I had a long conversation with my constituent, and I can confirm that she is neither a religious nutter nor driven by vindictiveness. She just wants the airline to accept that it was unfair and wrong, and the irony is that she has now been driven to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And the further irony is that the British Government — a British Government whose individual members, if asked, would almost certainly agree that BA was loony in its decision — is now apparently backing that decision and opposing Mrs Eweida.

Ministers will argue, in Strasbourg, that BA was perfectly within its rights to kick her out of the workplace, because there is nothing in the “rules” of Christian observance that says you have to wear a cross. They will argue that wearing a cross is “optional”, and therefore unlike wearing other items of apparel (headgear, bracelets, etc) that other religions demand of their adherents and which are therefore permissible for BA staff.

I don’t know the process by which government lawyers have decided this is the right way to go, but someone needs to march into their room, grab them by the lapels, and tell them not to be such confounded idiots. They appear to be following the 2010 Court of Appeal ruling of Lord Justice Stephen Sedley, who threw out Mrs Eweida’s case for discrimination and accused her of having a “sectarian agenda”.

Sedley is a very clever man, and a distinguished jurist, but I don’t think he would object if I called him the most Left-wing judge of the past 50 years. You should read his judgment, as a perfect example of how a brilliant mind, in the grip of strong ideological prejudice, can depart completely from common sense.

His first point, as I say, is that Christianity does not demand that its followers wear crosses — in the way that, say, Sikhism demands turbans — and that Mrs Eweida was therefore not discriminated against, and suffered no disadvantage, simply for being a Christian. Sedley makes much of this distinction between “optional” and “compulsory” bits of religious clothing or apparel, and you can see why it might be convenient for employers like BA.

Mrs Eweida might argue that her deep personal convictions drive her to wear a cross; and another female employee might argue that her deep personal convictions drive her to wear a burka. How could BA forbid one but not the other? What if a member of cabin crew turned up insisting (as many Britons do) that she believed in the Jedi order, and that her personal convictions demanded that she dress as Princess Leia? This objection may sound logical enough; and yet it flies in the face of common sense. There is surely a world of difference between discarding a uniform, in favour of a burka or a Princess Leia outfit, and wearing a small cross on a virtually invisible chain.

The airline was neither reasonable nor proportionate in its first response — as was shown by its subsequent capitulation — and the Appeal Court could have recognised that.

Sedley’s second point is that no other Christians, in BA’s entire 30,000 staff, protested in the same way, or insisted on wearing a cross, and that there was therefore no evidence that Christians were disadvantaged as a group. That may or may not be true. But if it is true that Mrs Eweida was on her own in wanting to wear a crucifix, then that surely shows she was not the thin end of the wedge, and that allowing her to wear a cross would have been a reasonable and harmless indulgence, rather than a general invitation to others to break the rules on uniform.

Mrs Eweida is a member of a group — Christians — and she wanted to express her membership of that group in a small and inoffensive way. She was suspended and sent home. She was told she could not have contact with the public. She was discriminated against. She did suffer disadvantage. It is plain as a pikestaff. Government lawyers should run up the white flag now. Never mind Strasbourg: it is time for some common sense.

A billion reasons to close the stamp duty loophole

I know the money is there, because I can see what is happening to London property values, and I can see the money still washing in from overseas. The other day I met a distinguished gentleman who told me he had lived in his house for about 35 years. It is a large, terrace family home – creaking staircase, cracks in the wall, a faint suggestion of cats as you enter the front hall. It is the kind of Georgian or Victorian home that you find in large numbers in London, and of course, after years of property price inflation, it is worth a fortune.

Some people – mainly but not exclusively “non-doms” – get around stamp duty by treating the house as a company. They buy shares in the company, and therefore pay tax at 0.5 per cent rather than at 5 per cent for expensive homes. But there is an even larger group of people who are exploiting a loophole, and going for a (legal) dodge called subsale relief. The result is the same: through the agency of some clever lawyers, they avoid a tax that is paid by virtually everyone else. According to a leading tax accountant, this loophole is being ever more ruthlessly exploited, and the loss to the Treasury could easily now be a billion pounds.

It is time that it was closed. Yes, of course London’s destiny is to be a great global metropolis, and of course it is right that people should come here to enjoy the many pleasures of London life. I have nothing against such people – and I do not blame them for trying to minimise their tax exposure. At least they are frank about what they are doing. They are not hypocrites, like some people, ahem, I could mention – no names, no pack drill – who foamingly denounce tax avoidance, and call for bankers to be hung, and who then turn out to have elaborate schemes to avoid paying the full whack of income tax on their earnings.

What all these people need to remember, humbugs or otherwise, is that hundreds of thousands of Londoners cannot afford the accountants to help with this kind of avoidance, and that there are hundreds of thousands who cannot afford any kind of property at all, let alone the fleshpots of Cricklewood or Mayfair. Here in London we will have built 50,000 new homes over the past four years, homes for social rent or part-buy, part-rent. It is a record number, and will help huge numbers of people who cannot afford to live in the city. We believe we can do even more over the next four years, in a programme of construction that will help to get large numbers of people into employment. Of course, it would be easier if we had an extra billion to spend on support for the housing construction programme.

Think of that Russian oligarch and the house he wants to buy for his cleaner. There are all sorts of reasons for him to love London. We have the right time-zone, the right language, we have excellent schools, more museums than Paris, more theatres than New York and a murder rate now at its lowest since the 1960s and considerably lower than Moscow’s. Is he really going to hop it to another jurisdiction, just because he has to pay the same for his property as any other UK taxpayer? I don’t think so. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

Boris Johnson: Ken Lingstone a ‘tax dodger’ and a ‘hypocrite’

Launching his mayoral re-election campaign, Mr Johnson mounted a colourful assault against Mr Livingstone as a “glove puppet” for the trade unions, saying: “I’m afraid that on May 3 I do see real risks for this city and this country.

“I see a risk that City Hall will be recaptured by a bunch of semi-reformed Trotskyist, car-hating, (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez idolising, newt fancying, tax dodging, bank bashing hypocrites and bendy bus fetishists.”

Mr Livingstone, who has attacked tax avoiders as “rich bastards” who should “not be allowed to vote,” channelled earnings of £232,000 in 2009 alone through a private company, Silveta Ltd, paying corporation tax at 21% instead of income tax at up to 40% and avoiding National Insurance altogether.

He set up the company jointly with his wife, allowing him to split his income 50-50 with her, even though it was earned entirely by him, saving further tax. He has also paid Mrs Livingstone from company funds as his “assistant.” He has piled up at least £320,000 in cash in the company, a tactic he admitted was a “tax avoidance option.”

Mr Johnson told the Conservative Spring Forum in London yesterday that he felt like a “man who has built half a bridge” and could see what needed to be done to complete his “modernisation” programme.

He unveiled his nine point plan for re-election, which includes council tax freezes, job creation, putting more police on the beat and cutting Tube delays. At the same event, David Cameron praised Mr Johnson as a “brilliant mayor of the best city on earth. And to anyone wondering about the best thing to say on the doorstep, I give you just two words: Ken Livingstone.”

Mr Johnson is neck-and-neck with his rival in the latest polls, prompting concerns in Number Ten that his campaign is “underwhelming” and lacks a simple offer for voters.