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'Stop talking down the economy'

On Sunday 18 January, Fiona Bruce interviewed Boris Johnson Mayor of London

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

London Mayor Boris Johnson warns: 'There is a risk of us all starting to sound like a suicide cult'.

Boris Johnson Mayor of London
Boris Johnson

FIONA BRUCE: Now Boris Johnson is undoubtedly one of the most colourful characters in British politics, but when he was elected Mayor of London last year, there were questions about how the journalist and former Conservative MP would adapt to running the capital and its bureaucracy.

Well here we are, seven months into the job, and he certainly can't be accused of lack of impact.

He still writes a weekly newspaper column and has lost none of his talents as a humorist. But he's revealed a steely and controversial side too.

He's been accused of political interference with the Metropolitan Police; through the turmoil in the City, he's been a staunch defender of the financial community; and following the Government's decision to back a third runway at Heathrow this week, he's in the forefront of the campaign against the airport's expansion. Boris Johnson joins me now. Boris, welcome.

BORIS JOHNSON: Good morning, Fiona.

FIONA BRUCE: Shall we kick off with this Heathrow third runway then? You've said that you're going to oppose it.


FIONA BRUCE: How are you going to do that?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well, it's not just me who's opposing it. I was delighted to see that you had Douglas Alexander earlier on on your sofa and he's one of a small band of heroic Cabinet ministers who tried to resist what I think is a completely foolish government decision.

This is not the right project for London. Heathrow Airport is basically a planning error of the 1940s. We're mad to be intensifying that error by greatly increasing the number of flights over London, more than 200,000 more flights. We need a far better solution. Tomorrow...

FIONA BRUCE: So what are you... Are you going to be out with your placard with the kind of you know 'Stop Heathrow' people... You've talked about a legal battle. How is it all going to work?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well tomorrow some of my people in City Hall are going to be talking with council about a legal challenge, and there's no doubt at all at first blush there are many, many possible ways that you could challenge this.

I oppose this on grounds of noise; I oppose this on grounds of the congestion it's going to cause in West London - a huge increase, 48 million increase in the number of vehicles on the roads as a result; and I also think, frankly, we're not paying enough attention to the security issues raised by you know having our airplanes fly over the central conurbation as they come in to land.

London is unlike any other capital city in using this approach. It is absolute madness to be ratcheting that up and I will oppose it. And I've absolutely no doubt that we are going to be successful. This runway will not be built.

FIONA BRUCE: So if we're talking about a legal challenge brought by you...

BORIS JOHNSON: Well let me...

FIONA BRUCE: who's going to be paying for that?

BORIS JOHNSON: let me explain the coalition that's growing, or you know partly explain the coalition. There are about twenty-one councils in London that have signed up to what's called the 2M Group. That's 2 million people. Actually it's about 4 million people who will be affected by the new runway. Those councils are leading the legal challenge and I've, with City Hall, we've lent our support to that and so we will be...

FIONA BRUCE: So this is taxpayers' money that's going to be paying for the legal battle, is it?

BORIS JOHNSON: (over) We are making a contribution and I think it's absolutely right. I mean we're spending 15,000 on this legal challenge. This is a government that is riding roughshod over the views of Londoners. 96% of people in the area oppose it. They haven't got the guts to call a parliamentary vote on this matter. It is of fantastic importance to London, it's of fantastic importance to the future of the country.

They haven't even got the nerve to put it to a vote in the whole of Parliament, let alone in London. I'd like to see Gordon Brown to come and debate... We're having a debate on Wednesday evening in Hillingdon on this issue - the first public debate that London has had about the merits of a third runway - and if Gordon Brown's got any bottle, I'd like him to turn up and explain his thinking.

FIONA BRUCE: What about direct action? Where do you stand on that? Are you going to be taking part? Are you going to support it?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well you know, I don't...

FIONA BRUCE: (over) You know if you've got people stopping, as we saw the other week - people stopping planes coming in, irate passengers, businesses complaining it's costing them money - we're inevitably going to see that, surely. Where are you going to stand on that?

BORIS JOHNSON: You know I think the advantage of what we're proposing is that you know it's a much more credible and much more sensible way of stopping the runway from being built. I of course don't encourage breaking of the law and I don't think that's the right way to do it.

I think we do have a real way of stopping this very, very bad idea with the legal tools at our disposal. And I also think that it will be hugely popular across... And I don't think this scheme is going to happen. I think we need to look seriously at the alternatives.

FIONA BRUCE: Well your alternative, which is building another airport in the Thames estuary, I mean it's been described even by David Cameron as a bit of a long shot. Plus, I mean if you think the Heathrow third runway's...

BORIS JOHNSON: Well it is a bit of a long shot, but I don't...

FIONA BRUCE: (over) Well but if you think the Heathrow third runway's going to be expensive - my goodness, building an airport in the Thames estuary is going to cost anything between... 30 and 50 billion pounds are the estimates. It's just a non-starter, isn't it?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well no, it's not. And I mean I want to just sort of get the, set out the terrain here. I think we should look at all the options around London before we intensify this, aggravate this huge planning error slap bang in the middle of the West London suburbs. We've got to look at all the options, so you've got to look at Gatwick - see what's going on there; we've got to look at Stansted, Luton; and I think we should look at Manston in Kent and I think additionally we should see what we can do with the Thames estuary.

And you know a lot of people say oh what about the bird life, what about the people of North Kent? Actually the site that you could go for, and indeed which we are going to look at this Friday, is some way away from... I mean miles away from the coast., and I think we're very lucky in that the guy who was responsible for the Hong Kong Airport, a brilliant civil engineer called Doug Ogilvy, is going to be looking at the possibility of doing this. He did Chep Lap Kok in Hong Kong. It was a triumphant success.

FIONA BRUCE: (over) Okay, so you've got other plans.

BORIS JOHNSON: I think we've got to think big.

FIONA BRUCE: You've got other plans for the airport. We'll see. I mean there's a number of commentators in the papers saying they don't think it's going to happen.

BORIS JOHNSON: (over) Well you know you could have said that, you could have said that 150 years ago about aviation. You could have said...

FIONA BRUCE: Well, but as well as Heathrow Airport, I see you are in the papers. You're in the Independent on Sunday turning up - I must ask you about this since it's there - looking...

BORIS JOHNSON: (over) You don't have to. You just... Earlier on, you said this was going to be a very, very...

FIONA BRUCE: (over) No, no, absolutely - you're concentrating very hard now, I can see that. That you attended the Tory Party conference in Birmingham and that your hotel bill was paid by the taxpayer. Are you going to pay it back?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well, as far as I'm aware, it is usual for mayoral delegations bills to be paid by the GLA and...

FIONA BRUCE: Well according to your own rules of conduct...

BORIS JOHNSON: (over)... and the interesting...

FIONA BRUCE: taxpayers' money shouldn't be used for party political purposes and it was interesting that you turned up to the Conservative Party conference. I don't see any notice of you attending the Labour or the Lib-Dem, so it looked like a political move to me.

BORIS JOHNSON: Well the Mayor certainly goes to party conferences and there's absolutely nothing, there's no reason at all why his bill should not be paid by the taxpayer. I would say in our defence that that...

FIONA BRUCE: (over) Well it was a political... You were there... You weren't there as an observer. You made a speech, you were cheered to the rafters. How is that not a political move? And that is proscribed by your own rules of conduct, so are you going to pay it back?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well I don't believe it is prescribed by our rules of conduct. But if it is prescribed, as you say, I will certainly pay it back. I don't happen to think that it is. I think... Actually I think it's greatly to our credit that this statistic has appeared because it would of course have been concealed under the previous administration. It is only thanks to the openness and transparency of the new regime in City Hall that you are able to make this footling point this morning, Fiona. And actually it is our expenditure on, which was not just for me but for several people who had to go with me because I'm afraid being Mayor now, it is a performance. You have to go with several people to these things and Conservative Party conferences are by no means the only thing I have to do in the course of the year.

FIONA BRUCE: (over) Well we'll look forward to seeing you at the Labour and the Lib-Dem conferences next year, Boris. That'll be very interesting.

BORIS JOHNSON: (over) I'm going, I'm going off the whole time to do various things and of course hotel bills have to be paid for. And I'm delighted that our new regime of transparency has put that on the record and it is trifling by comparison with Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor, who spent 20,000 quid on one lunch for Hugo Chavez, Latin American autocrat. How about that?


BORIS JOHNSON: Piffling by comparison.

FIONA BRUCE: he's not here to ask him about it, but I'm asking you. As well as yourself in the papers of course the City and this big bailout - another, what, 200 billion to bail out the banks. There's talk of nationalising, possibly nationalising the Royal Bank of Scotland. I mean you've gone on record as defending the City, which of course has come in for a lot of flak and a lot of criticism and accusations of greed. What's your response to this bailout?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well when you say "defending the City", I mean I certainly don't defend individual bankers and people who've you know lured people into unsustainable debts. And frankly I think it's a bit of... it's a wonderful thing actually. We no longer have to kind of take it that these guys, all these bankers that we meet are somehow supreme masters of the universe just because they've made so much money.

Actually they made terrific mistakes and, in so far as they got things wrong and they lured people into unsustainable debt, then they need to pay for those mistakes. But you know London is one of the world's great financial centres. It must remain so. It contributes... London, the City of London contributes 9% of UK GDP, 13% of value added. We're absolutely crazy to persecute bankers for the sake of it.

FIONA BRUCE: (over) But do you think this bailout is needed? Do you think it's a good move? I mean these are eye watering sums we're talking about, and so far... I mean the idea of it was to open up lending, to get the banks lending to each other, lending to customers again and that isn't happening in the way the Government wanted it to happen.

BORIS JOHNSON: It's absolutely right that there's a huge problem in trying to get credit flowing and the Government is doing what it can. I think the problem is aggravated and it's made much worse by the fact that the Government has itself run up so much debt, and that's why we're seeing the difficulties with the pound that we're experiencing. But you know I do think it's very important to remain positive.

I'm not going to you know sit here and talk down the prospects of this city or this country. I do think it is possible to take advantage of the fall in the value of the pound. You know London, for all you know the difficulties we've had in the manufacturing sector, London still has no fewer than three makers of bicycles. We have a considerable manufacturing sector. We can now exploit the fall in the value of sterling to launch an export drive. We can launch a drive for more tourists to come here. This is a fantastic bargain this city and this country...

FIONA BRUCE: (over) But if...

BORIS JOHNSON: those who want to come here and buy, buy in sterling.

FIONA BRUCE: if we see this 200 bailout, 200 billion bailout confirmed tomorrow, is this something the Conservatives are going to support as something that is necessary for the banks?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well let's see what happens tomorrow. I certainly think you need to restore confidence, you need to get credit flowing, but you won't do that by endlessly talking down the prospects of the economy and you know getting into a self-reinforcing cycle of gloom and negativity.

You know, I'm not saying that I can see the green shoots of recovery or whatever, but you know there is a risk of us all you know starting to sound like a millennialist suicide cult. You know this city, this country, this economy will come through it. And if we get it right and we invest in the right things in London and we make sure, for instance, that we drive forward the projects of infrastructure that we want to see developed over the next ten years, London could emerge far more competitive and better placed by the end.

FIONA BRUCE: Well talking about getting it right, let's talk about policing for a moment. And one of the most controversial parts of your first seven months, I think, was the resignation, some would say pretty much the sacking of Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

It was quite clear that he didn't have your backing, he felt he didn't have your backing, he felt he had no choice but to go. There was some controversy over what was called your "political interference" in that. The two final candidates for the job are going to be given to you this week, I understand. Who's going to have the final say over who gets that job now?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well you know the procedure is very simple in that the Home Secretary will make an appointment upon representations from me as Mayor and indeed recommendations from me as Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority. So I've no doubt at all that there will be a consensus and the right candidate will be found.

FIONA BRUCE: One that you're going to support presumably. I mean is it likely that a Metropolitan Commissioner can be appointed now who is one that you don't support because any Head of the Met is going to be looking over his or her shoulder now thinking what's the London Mayor considering.

BORIS JOHNSON: (over) Obviously I think the most important thing for London is that we get the... We need a police commissioner who's going to focus on driving down crime across London. I've no doubt that we're going to achieve that and I'll be working very closely with Jacqui Smith to make sure we get it right.

FIONA BRUCE: You're seven months into the job, I think.

BORIS JOHNSON: More than that actually.

FIONA BRUCE: More than that. Or May, or whatever it is.

BORIS JOHNSON: (over) I feel like it's gone, gone in a trice anyway.

FIONA BRUCE: Is it what you expected?

BORIS JOHNSON: It's much... It's a much, much bigger job in many ways than I'd expected. It's a wonderful job. I mean every day you know there's some new delight. It is a fantastic... Such as the interesting story you raised and you know I haven't seen. (laughs) It is a wonderful, it's a wonderful, wonderful job. And it's a very...

FIONA BRUCE: (over) And is it true these reports I hear about you challenging your staff to games of "pingers" as you call it - ping-pong, late nights in City Hall?

BORIS JOHNSON: Yeah, well that's... But only after hours, you know only after everybody's you know knocked off. There's no ping-pong in the middle of the day. But what we do is it is perfectly true that, yeah... I've got this huge desk in my room, which is a series of four desks which can be turned into a...

If you put the books on the middle, you can turn it into a very good... And on the way back from the Beijing Olympics, the cabin crew of the British Airways plane gave me a ping-pong bat and ball and we do indeed play.

FIONA BRUCE: Well so second career, who knows - either as a ping-pong player or, I don't know, do you see political life after City Hall, back into Parliament?

BORIS JOHNSON: You know, I... I think this job is incomparably more wonderful and difficult and challenging than anything I could dream of... You know it gluts the appetite for power, Fiona. It's an absolutely brilliant job and it's all I'm thinking about at the moment.

FIONA BRUCE: Yes, no - PM one day?

BORIS JOHNSON: Well you know there's going to be... You know I love the thing you always say about "arguably the most powerful Conservative in the land". It's very, very flattering, but of course this is a wasting asset because there is going to be a brilliant new Conservative government at which point you know I will simply you know merge seamlessly into the background and get on with running London as well as I can.

FIONA BRUCE: Well we shall see about that. Boris Johnson, thanks very much indeed.



Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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