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banner Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Boris fails to change his spots
Any illusion that Boris Johnson in his new capacity of prospective Tory candidate for Henley-on-Thames was about to give up his loveable mop-head image can now be quietly layed to rest.

Mr Johnson - who in is his capacity as journalist turned Spectator editor - has widely been seen as a bit of a wag with his vast blonde coiffure and his amazingly overbred accent.

Even at the moment when gravitas should have permeated its way into his new persona - the would-be Tory MP - he seemed unable to enter into serious debate opting always for a quick gag.

Perhaps he felt intimidated when he addressed a fringe meeting at the Tory conference in Bournemouth.

'Feral children'

There were, after all, plenty of heavyweights on the panel there to discuss taxation - including Tim Longdon an economics professor.

Mr Johnson's message, though, was clear: tax should be low enough so he could "send his children to anywhere other than an Islington sink school".

High taxes had much to answer for, he argued, and the recent protest over fuel duty in the UK were "a testament to the incompetence of this government".

Taxes wasted on bureaucracy had led to too few police on the beat a fact that, again, had serious implications for the borough of Islington where Mr Johnson lives.

He said: "There are far too many feral children running around [in Islington] because there are far too few police etc on our streets."

But it was not misdirected taxes that presented the only problem.

"Cut [people's] taxes so they can pay their own way," he said.

More toast

He also had a piece of advice for the National Health Service.

"When mothers give birth to children, as they do from time to time, and the NHS offers you toast and the father happens to swipe the toast when the mother is resting, why can't it now be possible for another couple of rounds to be bought?"

The serious point being - if indeed there was one - that people should be able to use NHS services and then pay for a top up should they so choose.

Prof Longdon, who advises the Conservatives on economics, had a slightly more serious take on the issue of taxation.

The overall tax burden in Britain amounted to something like 40% of our national product, he said, and the aim of the Tories should be to reduce it to a third.

The previous Tory government had tackled "excessive tax" at the top but not at the bottom and it was there the next administration should be looking.

More controversially, perhaps, Prof Longdon added: "In many ways there is a good case for higher taxes on fuel."

It is fairly clear that is one piece of advice shadow chancellor Michael Portillo has not taken on board.

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