When Boris Johnson isn't canvassing to become Mayor of London, he has a day job as Member of Parliament for Henley. But, I wondered, does being MP for Henley provide any relevant experience for taking the reins of the capital? Would throbbing multicultural London (population seven and a half million) be a better place if it were more like genteel riverside Henley-on-Thames (population ten thousand)? So I headed upriver to Henley at the weekend to find out. And what do you know, I think Boris has it sorted.
Environment: Henley is genuinely charming. A historic riverside town with half-timbered cottages, leafy water meadows and an uncloned high street. Rather like London would be if you wiped out everywhere that was a bit Hackney and replaced it with something rather more Richmond. I think Boris would approve. Air quality: Well done Boris, there's very little air pollution in Henley. Every breath of Thames Valley air was fresh and invigorating. If only the grimy smog I normally get to breathe in London was so refreshing. Economy: Is there any surer sign of a thriving economy than a queue of open topped sports cars with personalised numberplates waiting to enter a rowing club car park? Given that half the City's bankers appear to either live or play in Boris's constituency, I suspect he'd be ideally suited to running their place of work too. Crime: At no point during my trip to Henley did I feel under any threat whatsoever from mindless violence. Admittedly I did see one mother wielding a sharp knife in front of a child during a picnic, and the price of an ice cream in Mill Meadows was highway robbery, but Boris clearly has crime under control. Sport: There are no disaffected youth on the streets of Henley. That's because they're all on the river instead, sculling and stroking while some social worker with a bike stands on the towpath yelling instructions at them through a megaphone. Even the very littlest are busy dragon boating. Why can't London's youngsters do the same? Housing: What London needs is more detached villas with big gardens sweeping down to the banks of the Thames, each with their own little boatshed, just like what Henley has. Affordable housing? Pah, that's only for the au pair. Festivals: An annual regatta, with exclusive Stewards Enclosure and braying Pimms-sipping punters, would be a more than worthy replacement for Ken's regular series of ethnic celebrations in Trafalgar Square. Culture: Boris presides over such cultural highlights as DustySpringfield'sgrave, a museum of rowing boats and an annual arts festival featuring Lesley Garrett and the Gipsy Kings. Isn't entertainment of this calibre what every Londoner wants? Olympics: The 1908 Olympics, which were partly held in Henley, cost a mere £20000 and made a small profit. Boris is undoubtedly capable of delivering a similarly amateur Games in 2012 whilst keeping strictly to budget. Health: I don't know what they put in the water here (it's probably Perrier), but there are an awful lot of sprightly old people around town. Mostly in blouses or blazers. Trains: No need for Oyster cards in Henley. There's just the one station, on a single-track branch line, with an hourly service, operated by two-carriage trains. And it all works perfectly smoothly. Surely the perfect model for Crossrail. Congestion Charge: There's no Congestion Charge in Henley, and yet traffic still manages to flow freely around the one-way medieval ringroad in the centre of town. It's a right pain for pedestrians, who have to wait ages to cross the street because the lights are against them. But all priority to the motorist, eh? Buses: During my five hour visit to Henley I saw only three buses. That's not many, you might think, compared to the thousands that ply the streets of the capital. But NOT ONE of the three was a bendy bus. London's transport policy is clearly safe in Boris's hands. Ethnic diversity: From what I saw on Saturday whilst observing residents and tourists, there's only one non-white face in Henley. And she looked happy enough. Boris for London, QED.