Bankers 'vital' for recovery, says Johnson

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Indy Politics

London Mayor Boris Johnson today delivered a passionate defence of the City, warning against the dangers that high taxation and over-regulation would pose to the economic recovery.

Mr Johnson acknowledged he was "out on a limb" defending the bankers but said the City was a "vital part" of the solution to the economic crisis.

He told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that with public finances facing a "brutal squeeze", cuts would have to be made in a compassionate way.

As an example of efficient government, Mr Johnson announced he would extend the freeze on the amount of council tax that goes to City Hall to next year.

The Mayor told the conference in Manchester that the tax revenues generated from the City were vital for the UK.

"I will oppose high marginal rates of taxation because they failed in the miserable 1970s, because they yield tiny sums of revenue and because they only serve to drive away talent.

"I think it does matter that the City of London should remain competitive.

"I know how unpopular these bankers are. I know how far out I am on this limb in sticking up for these pariahs. But never forget, all you would-be banker bashers that the leper colony in the City of London produces 9% of UK GDP, 13% of value added and taxes that pay for roads and schools and hospitals across this country.

"And that is why I am willing to take the fight to our friends and partners in Brussels against ill thought out regulation."

Mr Johnson said the City was "not so much a problem as a vital part of the solution" to the economic downturn.

"We cannot sort out the deep-seated problems of unemployed young people in London without the help of those firms that could provide work for young people.

"And it's only if we have sensible taxes and light regulation and reasonable employment law that business will be able to pay the taxes for the things we need to do."

The Mayor, who took to the stage to the strains of the EastEnders theme tune, won a standing ovation from party supporters before he began speaking.

Mr Johnson said the "tough decisions about public spending" he has made in London could form a blueprint for a Conservative Government.

He said 180 jobs at City Hall had been cut, there had been a 30% reduction in the headcount at the London Development Agency and London Underground has already shed 1,000 backroom staff.

Other measures included savings on consultants and accommodation which contributed to a £5 billion saving in Transport for London's budget.

"When you are making savings at that kind of rate you have to do it, frankly, with compassion and with humanity."

Mr Johnson began by saying how pleased he was to be in Manchester "one of the few great British cities I have yet to insult".

He poked fun at Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, who is being investigated after she was involved in a traffic collision.

Mr Johnson said: "The tragedy of this Labour Government is that they are now set to scuttle from office with unemployment higher than when they came in, and rising, and with colossal public debt, like Peckham motorist Harriet Harman fleeing the scene of a crime.

"Once again it is up to us to sweep up the crushed indicator lights of a classic Labour car crash."

In a reference to his recent EastEnders cameo, Mr Johnson said the Tories would have to "sort out the usual disastrous legacy - the damnosa hereditas, as we say in Walford".

Aides to the Mayor were yesterday forced to deny there was a rift between him and David Cameron over a European referendum.

Today, Mr Johnson did not speak in detail about the Lisbon Treaty, but did refer to the possibility of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council.

"No matter what kind of flashing grin, glistering eyed president they may shortly install, they are not above poking the City in the eye in the misguided belief it will give them some kind of competitive advantage," he said.

The Mayor also launched an air quality strategy for London, saying it was a "disgrace" that the capital had some of the dirtiest air in Europe.