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UK Politics

'Unpleasant elitism': Nick Clegg attacks Boris Johnson's defence of greed

Deputy Prime Minister accuses the mayor of talking about people as if they were a “breed of dogs”

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has attacked Boris Johnson's defence of greed and snobbery as “unpleasant elitism”.

Mr Clegg was referring to a speech the Mayor of London gave at the Centre for Policy Studies annual Margaret Thatcher lecture on Wednesday night, during which he defended the importance of “boardroom greed” and “some measure of inequality” as a spur to economic activity.

Speaking during his weekly phone-in on LBC, Mr Clegg said: “I think these comments reveal a fairly unpleasant, careless elitism that suggests we should somehow give up on a whole swathe of our fellow citizens.”

Mr Clegg accused the mayor of talking about people as if they were a “breed of dogs” and said politicians should be seeking to improve opportunities for all.

In his speech, Mr Johnson said that any discussion about equality had to take account of the fact that while 16 per cent of “our species” had an IQ below 85 while around 2 per cent had an IQ above 130, adding: “The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.”

He continued: “For one reason or another - boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and God-given talent of boardroom inhabitants - the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever.

“I stress, I don't believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

And in a reference to Gordon Gekko - the ruthless trader in the Hollywood film Wall Street whose mantra was “greed is good”  - Mr Johnson said greed was a “valid motivator”. But he said he hoped any boom would be marked by a genuine sense of community and philanthropy.

Some analysts believe the speech was an attempt by Mr Johnson, 49, to be seen as the political heir to the former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.