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Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Sunday, 13 December 2009

Boris Johnson - the 'financial case' for saving Earth

On Sunday 13 December Andrew Marr interviewed Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

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

ANDREW MARR:

Mayor of London Boris Johnson on The Andrew Marr Show

Well my next guest once referred to environmentalists as "eco moralists who spouted mumbo-jumbo" and applauded George Bush's decision to scrumple up the Kyoto Treaty. And there's a great burble coming from him already.

BORIS JOHNSON:

You have to, you have to …

ANDREW MARR:

Once a green sceptic, to say the least, Boris Johnson has become a jolly green giant, and the Mayor of London is even heading off to Copenhagen tomorrow, I think. Boris Johnson, you have clearly changed your position on climate change, and my question is …

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) Well Charles Darwin. I mean Charles Darwin, I imagine began his scientific career you know believing the absolute literary truth of the Bible or whatever. You know there's no doubt that there's been a change in the volume and the persuasiveness of the evidence that's been laid before us over the last …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Was there a sort of tipping point moment for you?

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) … over the last twenty years. Yeah, I think if you look at what the Stern Report said, it was pretty obvious to me that there was a very serious problem. And the key point that I want to get across now before everybody glazes over with talk of climate change is that even if the sceptics are right - which I do not for one moment believe - there is a very, very good financial case for going ahead with some of the things we're doing in London to reduce CO2 output and to reduce pollution. So I think the argument we should be making, instead of paralysing everybody and moralising and you know doing all this hairshirt stuff, we should be trying to sell environmental measures as something that not only benefit the planet but can actually save …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Make our lives better too.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Make our lives better, but also save us money in the medium term and the long-term.

ANDREW MARR:

I'd like to come onto you know some of the measures for London specifically.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Yuh.

ANDREW MARR:

But before I do, there's a lot of people on the Right now who are saying climate change is all a Left Wing plot. And I wonder isn't that a problem for politics? I mean if it becomes a Left/Right thing with all this scientific evidence behind it, that's a danger.

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) You know I suppose there are always going to be people who identify elements of the climate change agenda as being vaguely Leftie in its …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Hairshirt.

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) … sort of spiritual inspiration, coercive, judgemental, moralising, nasty - all the things we associate with Leftie thinking. But …

ANDREW MARR:

Do we?

BORIS JOHNSON:

But there are all also, there are also very good, solid, pragmatic, conservative reasons for wanting to save the planet, to pass it on in better shape to our children, and also - more importantly - to save ourselves a lot of money in the process.

ANDREW MARR:

So a big …

BORIS JOHNSON:

So I think that the green agenda … and I think it was brilliantly captured by David Cameron. He set the … he got it all going, if you remember.

ANDREW MARR:

With his huskies and so forth?

BORIS JOHNSON:

Absolutely right. You know he got it right up the political agenda in a way that no other politician had done, and I think that the Conservatives are well placed to deliver pragmatic measures that will actually make a difference.

ANDREW MARR:

We didn't invite you on this programme to sit there and be nice about David Cameron. (laughs)

BORIS JOHNSON:

I don't know why you invited me on the programme at all, but I'm delighted to be here.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) What I wanted to ask you … Yeah. Let's move to the London measures in specific terms. There's going to be, a bit like Paris, lots of free bicycles to use.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Yuh.

ANDREW MARR:

I mean you have to sign up, but then you can pick up a bicycle and cycle a distance and drop it again. Is that right?

BORIS JOHNSON:

That's what we're bringing in from July next year. And I think it will be a wonderful thing. The idea is that there'll be 6,000 such bikes at about 400 docking stations, to begin with; and, as you say, you can pick them up and cycle round. But it's only …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And do you have good anti-nicking measures because about three quarters I think of the Paris bicycles, when they launched, were just stolen?

BORIS JOHNSON:

We are going to be absolutely draconian. I mean you know I want to see summary, exemplary and vicious punishments (Marr laughs) for those who are caught nicking these vital pieces of London infrastructure …

ANDREW MARR:

Right.

BORIS JOHNSON:

.. and we've already, as you can imagine, had detailed conversations with the police about it. But you know Andrew it's only part of what we want to do with cycling in London. I want to see this upwards trajectory, which we're seeing in London of cycling, continue. And you can only do that if you make it safe and if people like you feel that every morning when you come in from Sheen or wherever, you can do it safely.

ANDREW MARR:

Well, frankly, I would cycle more except that it seems to me too dangerous a thing to do all the time, particularly for somebody as incompetent as me.

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) I have to be aware of that and I am. And although I cycle everywhere and have absolutely no qualms or fears about it, I have to accept that there are millions of people who are apprehensive. So we're going to do a lot more training, we're putting in cycle super highways, and we want also to educate motorists about you know the necessity of sharing space.

ANDREW MARR:

Because you've also just …

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) But the kicker is cyclists have got to obey the laws of the road. If cyclists are going … If we're going to have an increase in cycling of the order, of the kind that we want to see in London, then there's got to be a reciprocal courtesy by cyclists. They must not cycle on the pavement, they must not jump red lights, they must not break the law. Sorry to sound preachy about it, but it's true.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Sure, because you've also raised fares on public transport - buses and tubes and so on - so, presumably, this is part of your answer: people have to cycle or walk more?

BORIS JOHNSON:

Well actually I think that if you look at the projections, there's going to be an increase in bus ridership and an increase in tube ridership as well. So public transport will continue to be you know absolutely critical. I don't think anybody could come on your show and pretend that cycling is going to be a miracle solution. Though actually in 1904, it may interest you to know, 20% of journeys in London were made by bike. I'm not suggesting we're going to get back to that, but we can get up from the current 1 or 2% to at least 5%.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay. Another of your big responsibilities obviously is the City of London as a financial hub. So how seriously do you think we should take all the stuff - there's a lot of it in the papers again today - about people going abroad, going to the British Virgin Islands, Switzerland, etcetera, to avoid the 50% impost?

BORIS JOHNSON:

Obviously there's going to be a lot of fluttering in the dovecotes, a lot of plaster coming off the ceiling after what we saw last week. I think you know people should realise what's really happening here. This was basically a measure intended to throw a lot of sand in people's eyes and to disguise I mean the bonus tax.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You don't think it's going to raise real amounts of money?

BORIS JOHNSON:

Let me … I don't think it will. I think its primary intention was to occlude, to cover up what was happening with the national insurance contributions - the huge hit that the rest of Britain is taking - and to say look what we're doing to these fat cats and they've had it coming and here it is, this is what we're doing. It won't raise anything like the sums that are proposed by the Treasury - not least because I'm afraid the bankers will find ways of getting round it by deferring their bonuses, paying them in other ways.

ANDREW MARR:

So can I … What should Conservatives do about this because bankers are very unpopular at the moment, for very obvious reasons, and some of them are taking enormous bonuses. What can or should be done about it?

BORIS JOHNSON:

Well you know I said a few months ago that I thought that there was a real problem building up. You remember round about end of summer, September we started to see headlines saying it's going to be a bumper Christmas, folks - bonus… you know they were going to get billions of pounds in bonuses again. And I thought that was going to be extremely damaging, so you know I made it clear my own view was that the bankers should make a collective effort to show restraint, not to pay themselves …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Yuh … which, which they don't.

BORIS JOHNSON:

And I'm afraid that they didn't, and I think it became a political inevitability that some kind of retribution was going to be exacted. All I can say, all I can say is …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So how you can exact some kind of retribution without pushing people abroad? That's the question.

BORIS JOHNSON:

My own view would have been it would have been far better for them to have come to the table and said, right, we understand.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Yuh, but given that they haven't?

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) We understand that we should have made a much greater contribution, we understand that we have taken huge sums of taxpayers' money to keep our institutions afloat and there's no doubt about it.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure, but we're left with a position where they haven't done that. My question is, given that, what could be done, what should be done?

BORIS JOHNSON:

Well I think that you know they should have shown much greater self-restraint. What kind of impost, what kind of tax you come up with, I don't know. What I do know is that I think the failure with this particular solution is that it is not global. And although there is a suggestion of support from France - we've yet to see much concrete about that - there's no real support in America. So the problem, the problem is …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So Britain should dump these measures, this particular 50% tax on everything over £25,000?

BORIS JOHNSON:

I can't prete… You know I can't pretend I find it easy to think that the bankers should have got away scot-free this Christmas with paying billions of pounds of effectively taxpayer funded bonuses.

ANDREW MARR:

But in a few months time, George Osborne is going to be …

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) But I have to say, but I have to tell you I don't think that it is a brilliantly devised measure. I think if you could have come up with a solution that brought together New York, Paris, Frankfurt - all the financial centres - and said this is how we're going to approach it, then that might have been, that might have been better.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But if George Os…

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) Speaking as the Mayor, speaking as the Mayor, that is what I would far have preferred.

ANDREW MARR:

And if George Osborne becomes Chancellor in a few months time, you would say to him actually drop this?

BORIS JOHNSON:

I would say to him that - and I think this is you know what I've been saying for quite a long time now - I would say you know it's very, very hard to devise a bonus tax (or whatever you want to call it) that is really effective, but if you're going to do it, then get international agreement. Because no matter how despised these people may be - and I understand people's feelings and you know I personally think it's outrageous that they should be paying effectively taxpayer funded bonuses - but unless you can come up with a system that penalises all great financial centres, then you're going to end up super penalising London. And that, I'm afraid to say as Mayor, I don't think is a good idea …

ANDREW MARR:

Right, okay, okay.

BORIS JOHNSON:

… because we, this city depends on financial services and the whole of the UK economy depends on the strength of the London economy.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure. We seem to be going into a period in politics marked by a bit of class war. Do you think there are enough old Etonians at the top of the Conservative Party at the moment?

BORIS JOHNSON:

This is a brilliantly contrived question. I don't think … I think the classic answer to this … I can't remember which school you went to, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Loretto.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Jolly good school. You know I think enough of this nonsense. I don't think the public really give a hoot, monkey's, whatever, tinker's cuss about where you …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So when you see Annunziata Rees-Mogg being told that she should be known as Nancy Mogg, your eyes roll?

BORIS JOHNSON:

(over) … where you come from and all that kind of thing. I think they want to know what's going on between your ears and you know what you've got to say to them.

ANDREW MARR:

And do you think the Conservative Party is in a position now where it is appealing to the centre ground enough to win this election because you know we read at least some of the polls seem to be narrowing at the moment?

BORIS JOHNSON:

I think that … You know I'm not going to say that the election's a done deal, but I think that the Labour government is almost completely discredited. In my view, I think they've bogged it up in the most imperial, intergalactic fashion. They've run up absolutely colossal sums in debt. They show no credible way of getting us out of this mess. They seem to have absolutely no sense of how to cut waste. I think the PBR was a completely wasted opportunity. They deserve to be ejected into orbit. I think what you're going to see … I think the story of politics at the moment is basically we know the denouement … It's like a novel where the denouement has become obvious a little bit too early and so …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well tell me about one of the future chapters. Next parliament, are you going to rejoin the House of Commons?

BORIS JOHNSON:

I think it highly unlikely. You mean, what, in 2010?

ANDREW MARR:

After 2010, in the next five years. Between 2010 and 2015, does Boris Johnson return to the House of Commons? Question.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Well how does that work?

ANDREW MARR:

Well I don't know - you get a seat and get in, I suppose.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Well you know it's … Ask my brother to stand aside.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright, there we go.

BORIS JOHNSON:

(laughs) Highly unlikely.

ANDREW MARR:

Boris Johnson, almost briefly reduced to silence.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.

ANDREW MARR:

Thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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