Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 15:49 UK

Johnson defends 'pariah' bankers

Johnson on the need to help London to 'lead the UK out of recession'

Boris Johnson has come to the defence of City bankers, saying they make a vital contribution to the British economy despite being "pariahs".

The mayor of London said he knew he was "out on a limb" in praising bankers, whose excesses many blame for the financial crisis.

But he urged against "ill thought-out" regulation as leaders sought to prevent a repeat of the crisis.

In a wide-ranging speech, he described Labour as "unbelievably embarrassing".

In a speech to the party's conference in Manchester, Mr Johnson urged his party on to victory at the next election and made several references to past gaffes as well as his recent cameo appearance in BBC soap Eastenders.

I know how unpopular these bankers are
Boris Johnson

He suggested that savings he had made at City Hall since he was elected in London in 2008 could be a template for an incoming Conservative government nationally.

While warning banks that they could not return to business as usual after the events of the past two years, Mr Johnson said they must not be regulated and punished out of existence.

As well as being a substantial employer, the financial services industry paid huge sums in tax every year, he said.

"I know how unpopular these bankers are," he said. "I know how far out I am on this limb in sticking up for these pariahs.

"But never forget, all you would-be banker bashers that the leper colony in the City of London produces 9% of UK GDP, 13% of value added and taxes that pay for roads and schools and hospitals across this country.

"And that is why I am willing to take the fight to our friends and partners in Brussels against ill thought-out regulation."

'Unacceptable'

Mr Johnson is at odds with the Tory leadership over whether to scrap Labour's 50% tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year.

He wants to abolish it straight away if the Tories win the election while shadow chancellor George Osborne has said the scale of the UK's debt crisis means that he cannot commit to doing so.

Mr Johnson told delegates he would oppose high marginal tax rates as they had failed in the past and "drove away" talent.

Defending his record since he won office last year, Mr Johnson said he had shown it was possible to cut waste, bureaucracy and running costs without hitting frontline services.

But Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott said: "Boris Johnson is the unacceptable face of capitalism.

"He wants low taxes and light regulation for the bankers who brought Britain to its knees and 'compassionate cuts' for everyone else.

"Cameron must cringe every time Boris opens his mouth. He's so off the caring Conservatism message, he's off the wall."



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