Boris’s big dilemma: should Pope pay c-charge?
And should he have spoken to Benedict in Latin? Boris Johnson relives the weighty issues of the papal visit
What was going through the mind of Boris Johnson, mayor of London, as he waited on the tarmac for Pope Force One to taxi to a halt last week? Thanks to his column in today's Daily Telegraph, we have the answer: Should the Popemobile be liable for the congestion charge? And, if not, why not?
As he pondered the deeper, ethical implications of asking Pope Benedict XVI to cough up the £8 fee to drive through Westminster, Boris asked himself:
"What's the point of being Pope, they will say, if you can't be exempt from the congestion charge? Why should the people of London begrudge the Holy Father £8? To which the others will say, why should the Holy Father begrudge the people of London £8? They've got a bob or two in the Vatican."
Johnson, who has held office for two years and recently announced he will run again in 2012, went on: "It is, you will appreciate, a grade-A political dilemma, of a kind we cowardly politicians are keen to shirk."
Fortunately, Transport For London staff were able to put the mayor's mind at rest. They clarified that the charge could not be levied because it "applied only to vehicles making 'normal' use of the roads".
Of course, such ethical dilemmas were never going to get in the way of Boris trying out his famed knowledge of Roman history on the Pontiff.
Avoiding the temptation to speak in Latin - it would doubtless not have been a problem for Boris, but would the German-born Pope have been up to it? - the mayor finally plumped for engaging Benedict in a discourse on the schism at the heart of the British relationship with Rome.
"It all goes back to 410," Boris told Benedict, noting that the Pope appeared tired but patient, "like a tutor dealing with an especially obtuse and excitable pupil".
Boris recalls: "I didn't mean 10 past four, I didn't mean teatime, I gabbled on. I meant 410AD, the year the emperor Honorius announced that Britain could no longer be protected by the legions, the year we were effectively cut off from the empire.
A presumably bewildered Benedict replied "very interesting", before seeking sanctuary in his Popemobile.
Still, it could have been worse - at least Boris didn't make any German Shepherd jokes. ·
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