What makes Boris run? Many Tories believe London's Mayor can lead them to election victory... and this week he gave tantalising clues to what he REALLY believes
Delivering the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture Boris Johnson opened up about his political views. Here we publish the extracts
In an extraordinarily candid speech on Lady Thatcher this week, London Mayor Boris Johnson - who an increasing number of Tories think is the only man who can lead them to victory - also provided a tantalising insight into his own values and beliefs.
Here, we present the edited extracts...
On the BBC and Lady Thatcher
The amazing thing about the funeral of Baroness Thatcher was the size of the crowds, and the next amazing thing was that they were so relatively well-behaved.
The BBC had done its best to foment an uprising. With habitual good taste, they played Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead on taxpayer-public radio.
Asked to find some commentators to give an instant reaction to the death of Britain’s greatest post-war Prime Minister — an event that was not exactly unforeseen — they reached instinctively for Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone, two of her bitterest foes . . . if you exclude the Tory wets, that is.
As her cortege wound its way to St Paul’s, there were a few people so stupid that they heckled the mortal remains of an 87-year-old woman.
A few turned their backs. But the mass of humanity was on her side, and when the dissenters erupted they were swiftly drowned by cries of ‘Shhh’ or calculated volleys of applause.
I walked through the crowds and saw how various her mourners were. There were tweedy types and suited thrusters and people who would generally not look out of place at a Tory Party conference.
But there were also people from all over London, immigrants of every race and colour — people that the BBC might not have marked down, perhaps, as natural Thatcherites — and yet who had come to pay their respects to a woman who spoke to them and for them as no other politician has done.
It is easy to see how anyone who had been exposed to the educational curriculum in most UK schools would form a low opinion of Margaret Thatcher.
Look at the questions they set for politics A-level. I have the papers for the last couple of years: ‘The industrial disputes of the 1980s were primarily the result of Mrs Thatcher’s desire to destroy the power of the trade unions.’ (Discuss, 45 marks);
‘Decline in support for the Conservatives and their continued electoral unpopularity were due to the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.’ (Discuss, 45 marks);
‘Margaret Thatcher’s achievements as Prime Minister in the years 1979 to 1990 were limited.’ (Discuss, 45 marks). And so on.
I wonder how many candidates got marks by dissenting vigorously from any of these ludicrous assertions.
For millions of poor misinformed students, she is simply a name to hiss — a byword for selfishness and bigotry.
Yet I don’t blame young people. All they have to go on is Russell Brand and the BBC and what their teachers tell them. They weren’t around in the Seventies as I was.
A lost decade
In the Seventies our food was boiled and our teeth were awful and our cars wouldn’t work and our politicians were so hopeless that they couldn’t even keep the lights on because the coal-miners were constantly out on strike, as were the train drivers and the grave-diggers, and the man who was really in charge seemed to be called Jack Jones [leader of the Transport and General Workers’ Union who passed secrets to the Soviets for 45 years].
At the beginning of 1979, Red Robbo [Derek Robinson, union convenor at British Leyland] paralysed what was left of our car industry and the country went into the winter of discontent, women were forced to give birth by candle-light, Prime Minister’s Questions was lit by paraffin lamp and Blue Peter was all about how to put newspaper in blankets for extra insulation.
In March that year, Sir Nicholas Henderson, retiring ambassador to Paris, wrote the traditional valedictory letter to the Foreign Secretary.
‘Today we are not only no longer a world power, but we are not in the first rank even as a European one.’
Two months later Margaret Thatcher had won her first majority and began the process of reversing that view of Britain, in this country and around the world.
'For millions of poor misinformed students, [Thatcher] is simply a name to hiss ¿ a byword for selfishness and bigotry'
Revolution that changed Britain
In 1981 Thatcher took on the expert opinion of 364 economists who wrote a pompous letter to The Times calling for a U-turn on her budgetary policies; and she routed them by delivering an economic revolution in Britain whose benefits we enjoy to this day.
In 1982, she showed Churchillian pluck, telling the Americans and the Peruvians to stuff their Falklands peace plan, and she sent the Navy halfway around the world on a spectacularly risky venture.
By the end of the year, Argentina’s President Galtieri was gone and the principle of the islanders’ right to self-determination had been vindicated.
In 1983, she took on Michael Foot and gave Labour an epic drubbing.
In 1984, she squared up to the miners all right — but she didn’t provoke the confrontation.
She was facing a challenge from a Marxist demagogue [Arthur Scargill] who had no real interest in the welfare of his miners and who had refused even to call a ballot before a strike whose avowed purpose was to bring down the elected government of the country.
By the time she was eventually felled by her own MPs — cravenly hoping that they would save their own seats — her achievements were colossal and, in many cases, irreversible.
'Thatcher put a stop to the talk of decline and she made it possible for people to speak without complete embarrassment of putting the ‘great’ back into Britain.'
She had introduced millions of people to the satisfaction of owning their own home; she had widened share ownership immensely; she had tamed the power of the unions and given back to management the power to manage.
She had also done something less tangible and far more important: she had changed the self-image of the country.
You have to remember how far we felt we had fallen.
In the period 1750 to 1865, we were by far the most politically and economically powerful country on earth.
And then we were overtaken by America, and then by Germany, and then we had the World Wars — and we ended up so relatively weakened that the ruling classes succumbed to a deep spiritual gloom that bordered on self-loathing.
Thatcher put a stop to the talk of decline and she made it possible for people to speak without complete embarrassment of putting the ‘great’ back into Britain.
And she gave us a new idea — or revived an old one: that Britain was, or could be, an enterprising and free-booting sort of culture; a buccaneering environment where there was no shame — quite the reverse — in getting rich.
Top of the world
Margaret Thatcher transformed the idea of Britain from sick man of Europe to bustling and dynamic trading centre.
Nowhere was that transformation more extraordinary than in London.
It was she who went for the Big Bang in 1986, unleashed the animal spirits of the Essex men and women who mingled with ever-growing numbers of suave American and European bankers and restored London to its Victorian eminence as the financial capital of the world.
It was Margaret Thatcher who put in the Channel Tunnel link to Paris, who pioneered Canary Wharf, who green-lighted the Jubilee Line extension, who turbo-charged the City, who cut personal taxation from 83 to 40 per cent and laid the foundations for modern London’s success.
Greed is good
It sometimes feels as though the Eighties are about to come round again.
Though I may be wrong, my impression is that the vast and intricate machine of the London economy is starting to throb . . . I sense a boom in the offing.
Gerard Lyons, my economic adviser, thinks we could be looking at growth of 4 per cent next year. But I hope there is no return to that spirit of ‘Loadsamoney’ heartlessness.
I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London [a reference to the fictional financier who coined the phrase ‘Greed is good’ in the film Wall Street] are conspicuous not just for their greed — valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress — as for what they give and do for the rest of the population.
It was Mrs Thatcher who made the essential point about charity, in her famous analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
He wouldn’t have been much use to the chap who fell among thieves, she noted, if he had not been rich enough to help.
And what has been really striking about the last five or six years is that no one on the Left has come up with any other way for an economy to operate except by capitalism.
We all waited for the paradigm shift after the crash of 2008. But like it or not, the free market economy is still the only show in town.
Boris Johnson has defended Thatcher and her legacy, saying she has been tragically misrepresented
No, we are NOT all equal
Britain is competing in an increasingly impatient and globalised economy, in which the competition is getting ever stiffer.
No one can ignore the harshness of that competition, or the inequality that it inevitably accentuates; and I am afraid that violent economic centrifuge is operating on human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth.
Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130.
And for one reason or another — boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and God-given talent of boardroom inhabitants — the income gap between the top earners and those at the bottom is getting wider than ever.
I don’t believe that economic equality is possible. Indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.
But we cannot ignore this change in relative economic standing, and the resentment it sometimes brings.
Why do we hate the rich?
Last week I pointed out that the rich paid a much greater share of income tax than they used to.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, they faced a top marginal tax rate of 98 per cent, and the top 1 per cent of earners contributed 11 per cent of the government’s total revenues from income tax.
Today, when taxes have been cut substantially, the top 1 per cent contributes almost 30 per cent of income tax; and, indeed, the top 0.1 per cent — just 29,000 people — contribute fully 14 per cent of all taxation.
That is an awful lot of schools and roads and hospitals being paid for by the super-rich. So why, I asked innocently, are they so despicable in the eyes of decent British people?
Surely they should be hailed like the Stakhanovites of Stalin’s Russia who half-killed themselves, in the name of the people, by mining record tonnages of coal?
I proposed that we should fete very rich taxpayers and decorate them and inaugurate a new class of tax hero, with automatic knighthoods for the top 10 per cent.
Hardly ever have I produced so frenzied and hate-filled a response.
People aren’t remotely interested in how much tax these characters pay. That does nothing to palliate their primary offence, which is to be so stonkingly rich.
After five years of recession, people rightly or wrongly care about inequality and pay disparity.
It seems to me, therefore that though it would be wrong to persecute the rich, and madness to try and stifle wealth creation, and futile to try to stamp out inequality, we should only tolerate this wealth gap on two conditions: one, that we help those who genuinely cannot compete; and, two, that we provide opportunity for those who can.
Johnson says that Mrs Thatcher would never have put up with EU immigration rules and would have got a better deal for Britain
Full marks to grammar schools
I worry that there are too many people who aren’t being given a good enough chance to hustle their way up to the top. There are many explanations for the decline in social mobility.
Some say it is all to do with the abolition of the grammar schools; and here we must sorrowfully acknowledge that the record of our heroine was very far from perfect.
Indeed, she closed more grammar schools than [Sixties Labour Education Secretary] Tony Crosland.
But the question I am asking today is not what Mrs Thatcher did then, but what would she do now, because I think she would have taken the question of social mobility very seriously indeed.
I think she would have wanted to help smart and hard-working kids everywhere.
She was a grammar school girl herself, and knew what it was like to be up against the kind of smug, sleek men who never dreamed that she would be Prime Minister, never thought she would have the guts to sack posh public school chaps like them.
I think she would have instantly brought back the assisted places scheme that helped 75,000 pupils find excellent education in the fee-paying sector.
She might not have flooded the place with grammar schools, not under that name, because that would have been a U-turn, and we know what she thought of U-turns.
But I hope that she would have found some way of making far wider use of academic competition between children.
'Margaret Thatcher would now be fighting like a lioness for our union with Scotland, and she would comfortably see off Alex Salmond'
I remember once sitting in a meeting of the Tory shadow education team and listening with mounting disbelief to a conversation in which we all agreed solemnly that it would be political madness to try to bring back the grammar schools — while I happened to know that most of the people in that room were about to make use, as parents, of some of the most viciously selective schools in the country.
Fighting for the United Kingdom
Margaret Thatcher would now be fighting like a lioness for our union with Scotland, and she would comfortably see off [SNP leader] Alex Salmond, because she would have instinctively identified the heart of the matter: that this isn’t about whether or not the Scots will be £800 per year worse off per head.
This is about the demolition of Britain, about taking the blue background from the union flag, lopping the top off the most successful political union in history.
It would diminish both Scotland and England, and it would be no consolation to her that the loss of Britain, might also mean the end of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Immigration and the EU
It’s time to sort out the immigration system so that we end the madness.
At the moment we are claiming to have capped immigration by having a 60 per cent reduction in New Zealanders, when [thanks to the EU] we can do nothing to stop the entire population of Transylvania — charming though most of them may be — from trying to pitch camp at Marble Arch.
David Cameron is right about giving countries more flexibility over the time-lag before immigrants from other countries may claim benefits, and I can’t believe he is alone among EU leaders.
It is time we ended the Soviet absurdities of the Common Agricultural Policy, time we sorted out the working time directive [restricting workers to a 48-hour week] and time we generally persuaded the Eurocrats to stop trying to tell us what to do.
First they make us pay our taxes for Greek olive groves, many of which probably don’t exist. Then they say we can’t dip our bread in olive oil in restaurants.
We didn’t join the Common Market — betraying the New Zealanders and their butter — in order to be told when, where and how we must eat the olive oil we have been forced to subsidise.
Mrs Thatcher would never have put up with it. I reckon she would get a better deal for Britain and, indeed, the rest of Europe, and simultaneously keep Britain in the internal market council.
The mayor said that greed is a force for good and called for awards to be given to top taxpayers
What the future holds for Britain
But at the back of her mind during any negotiations on Europe would be this comforting truth: that the stakes are lower than they were.
The EU has shrunk to only 19 per cent of the global economy, compared with 29 per cent when Mrs Thatcher was in power.
The big growth markets lie elsewhere, and there is a paradox in our relations with the EU. We joined in the early Seventies in a mood of weakness and defeatism, and since then things have changed.
It is not just that we stayed out of the euro or that we are recovering fast while the eurozone is a still a microclimate of gloom.
Consider the demographics.
By 2050 Britain will be the second biggest country in the EU. By 2060 — when I fully intend to be alive — we will have more people than Germany.
And yes, I can see you gulp, and no, I don’t know exactly where they will all go either, though when I drive through the cities of the North I see plenty of depopulated space.
Nor can I easily tell you what it will be like for us suddenly to be the biggest and most economically powerful country in Europe — but I will chance my arm and make some prophecies.
By the middle of this century we will still have a crown, we will still have a union, we will have a dynamic, diverse, globalised economy and we will have dealt with the recent period of mass immigration so that our cities are not just proudly British, but also boast a vast mongrel energy.
And one thing will have gone for ever — and that is the myth of British decline.
We may not have many gunboats any more, but we hardly need them, because we are already fulfilling our destiny as the soft-power [power derived from economic and cultural means as opposed to force] capital of the world.
And that is thanks to a woman who knew all about soft power and the deep Freudian terror that every man has for the inner recesses of a handbag.