MQT on 2010-06-09
Session date: 
June 9, 2010
Question By: 
John Biggs
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


What is the greatest risk to London flowing from the new coalition Government and its recently announced policies?


Answer for Coalition

Answer for Coalition

Answered By: 
The Mayor

I am sort of grateful for your answer but it would be nice if you had tried to answer the question more substantively. I could quote to you from a meeting the other week at the London Chamber's of Commerce business question time where you said, 'We need to be fighting, no, struggling with the new Government' which obviously you have a lot in common with. The question in my mind is whether you have so much in common with it that you will defend its policies, or whether you see yourself primarily as a Mayor for London defending Londoners?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Forgive me. I thought your question was one of your jocular questions intending to get a rise out of me.

John Biggs (AM): None of my questions are jocular.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I now understand what you are driving at. No, you are quite right. Had Labour won the election we would have been in very much the same position; we would have had to be fighting very, very hard to make sure that it understands the critical importance to this country - never mind to this city, of investing in transport infrastructure, in affordable housing, in allowing us to meet our target of 50,000 affordable housing, and in keeping our streets safe. Those are the points that we need to make to the coalition government and we would have made exactly the same points to an incoming Labour government as well.

John Biggs (AM): So you will be picking a fight with the Government as and when it announces cuts in funding to those services?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I certainly shall. I have absolutely no compunction in doing so. I believe that if you look at the great scheme of public spending there is no doubt that the axe could fall on many other things with greater advantage than on the things I have just mentioned in London.

John Biggs (AM): What would you say are the top three areas that you would defend against cuts in spending?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think I have just given them.

John Biggs (AM): Which are? Transport, policing and ... ?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Housing.

John Biggs (AM): Housing. Can I remind you of your previous answers on the London Living Wage because I think, as Mayor of London, you have eloquently - and we are grateful for this - spoken up on behalf of Londoners on low wages, you have extended the London Living Wage by another 20 pence an hour and it does make a real difference to people. Is it not the case that cuts in services such as Sure Start Centres and such as affordable childcare services will have a far more cutting effect on those on the lowest wages in London? What will you do to speak up for Londoners on those?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Of course you are right. I will make it my job at every possible opportunity to stick up for the interests of all Londoners facing disadvantage or suffering because of cuts. I think you have got to be frank with people and say why are we in the position that we are in? It is because we have a net public sector debt in this country of £893.4 billion. That is a very considerable burden to be placing on future generations; it is causing us a huge, huge haemorrhage just to service that debt and to pay for that debt. I am afraid those are the financial circumstances that the last government, which you supported, has left us with.

John Biggs (AM): I think, this time last year, you were applauding supporting your Economic Recovery Action Plan under the Labour Government - which was classic Keynesian stuff. It talked about spending at a time of economic hardship, talked about not cutting services because that would attack the weakest and would multiply the risks of recession. It strikes me today that you are fundamentally confused as to which direction you are pointing in.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, I do not think that is true. I know what you are driving at but there is a very, very clear distinction between spending on consumption and spending on investment. I want to make sure that, in this country and as we go forward, that we make the case for spending on things that will benefit our economy for the long term. There are things in London that will be of long term benefit to the national economy which I believe we should be fighting for very, very rigorously. Whether it is absolutely necessary for me to receive child benefit is another matter.

John Biggs (AM): Right, but for those Londoners on lowest wages, in greatest hardship, facing unemployment and with pressures of rents, pressures of fares - which have gone up of course - you are promising them a superb transport system but they may not be able to afford to use it. What are you going to do to defend the interests of Londoners whose incomes are threatened by the cuts we are told are around the corner?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Do not forget everything we have done to protect the interests of those who are on low incomes and who need to use public transport. There are special discounts for those on Jobseeker's Allowance and other benefits. We, of course, have extended the Freedom Pass for those over 60 to 24 hours a day. I accept that it was necessary to put the fares up last year but I would point out that the fares went up by a smaller percentage than they went up under the last Mayor and fares in London, transport in London is still incredibly competitive, in fact cheaper than other cities in this country. It is my job, by promoting things like the London Living Wage, by making sure that we use our funds at our disposal to build as many affordable houses as possible to reach our target of 50,000 affordable homes and to make sure that people in this city on low incomes can afford to live here.

John Biggs (AM): Right. So when you meet, as your articles tell us you do quite regularly, with Mr Osborne [George Osbourne, Chancellor of the Exchequer], you are saying, 'Save our capital programme but do not worry about the benefits. We can manage without those. We have been pampered for too long'

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, that is absolutely not what I am saying.

John Biggs (AM): So how are you championing the interests of the neediest Londoners, many of whom voted for you, and who need the leadership of a Mayor to protect them at a time of hardship and recession?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think I have made it absolutely clear that I am passionately committed to defending the interests of the poorest and the neediest of Londoners mainly by doing what we can with our transport budgets to protect them, to protect people who are on low incomes and people who are in search of work, to protect the older people, to make sure that we keep free travel for younger people - which many people on either side of this horseshoe advocated getting rid of at one time or another. I have rejected that. I think we should have free travel in London for younger people. It is a benefit that everybody else has to pay for but it is very, very important, particularly for families on low incomes. It is one of the ways that we can help hardworking low paid families in this city and I am determined to keep it up.

John [Biggs], you must be in no doubt about this; I will have no hesitation whatever in going in to fight in the most committed possible way for the interests of Londoners in the course of the next budgetary negotiations. That is not just because I see that it is my duty to defend the entire electorate, which obviously it is, it is also because I think it is the right thing for this country. London is the motor of the UK economy. If people cannot afford to come and work in London and if they cannot afford to live in London you will starve the UK economy of petrol!