London Mayor Boris Johnson says bankers owe recession debt to community
City bankers must repay a “debt to the community” after their “collective oblivion” in the lead-up to the recession, Boris Johnson has said. But the public must not punish them “for being tools of Mammon" - and allow London to lose its position as the financial capital of the world.
The Mayor of London - who made the comments during an exclusive interview with the south London Guardian papers - also said his idea for an amnesty for illegal immigrants was not a leftist or liberal policy, but “good economic sense”.
“Something big has happened and there's no question that some bankers by being short sighted and perhaps greedy have let themselves down, there's no question about that,” the Mayor said, speaking about the Square Mile's role in the financial storm.
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“The city now needs to think about how to put that right again and how to recover its good name in the eyes of sensible people . . . and show a sense of their debt and connection with the rest of the community.
"But what we shouldn't do is decide that we are going to have some great reckoning with these people and punish them for being tools of Mammon (a Bible reference to money and greed) and go over to some crazy system of regulation that would destroy the advantages we have in this city.”
Mr Johnson said bankers should contribute more to his Mayor’s Fund but said reform should be more evolution than revolution.
He warned over-regulation of the banking system in London, “still the financial capital of the world”, could lead to worse consequences.
“Never forget that when you try and solve a big 30-year crisis like this with new regulation, what you are really probably going to do is just create the conditions for the next crisis,” he said.
“Everybody took risks and made bets that simply went wrong. They did it because over a massive long period of boom they forgot that there could be a downside. There was a collective oblivion, everybody got into a narcosis of thinking that this could just go on and on.
"This has now been the most tremendous, tremendous of shocks.
"There is a great vengeful bushfire going through the sector . . . it will take a long time for people to make that mistake again.
"Of course we need better regulations and sensible ways of doing things but don't overdo it.”
The Mayor rebuffed claims his reaction to the recession has been too slow - and said while more funding to promote London was available it “was an issue of timing”.
He also attacked the Government for cutting London’s tourism budget and said while high-end hotel and restaurants were undoubtedly suffering, other areas of the economy, like tourism, remained sturdy.
“The issue is do you put all your eggs in one basket in February March, or do you save it up till May and have a real go at it?” he said.
“In terms of tax-payer value and bang for your buck, there's an argument of waiting until you see the whites of your eyes. Not every sector is in the doldrums by any means.”
Tourism was “robust”, he said, adding that since the “vertiginous collapse in Stirling” he had invested £600,000 promoting London in Euroland – with a direct return of £30 to every £1 spent.
The Tower of London had virtual record visitors during half term, he said, adding it was vital the Government supported London tourism. “We have had a £2m cut in our budget, and that is quite, quite wrong. We need a big transfusion of funds for London tourism.”
Illegal immigrant amnesty
With new research by the London School of Economics estimating as many as 725,000 illegal immigrants were in the country, Mr Johnson said the time was right - despite it being contrary to his own party’s policy - to consider an amnesty.
He said: “We have huge number of illegal immigrants who are taking services from the state, in the form of social services, healthcare, in the form of education we are all paying for them with our taxes, perhaps 750,000 of them . . . it’s wrong for this situation to be allowed to continue.
If they are breaking the law or they are here illegally they should go back, but we are not sending them back, maximum 12,000 a year, at this rate it will be 60 years to clear the backlog.”
He argued some immigrants had "earned the right" to stay.
“For people who have been here a long time, are of good character, who are will to contribute to society and who do show a loyalty to the society . . . there should be cases where we consider whether people have earned a right to stay here.”
Mr Johnson said he had not yet spoken to his party leader, David Cameron, about the issue and said his idea had not been adopted by the Tories: “No not at the moment, not yet, not yet”.
The Mayor conceded it might be a look a “soft” policy, but said it was one driven primarily by economics.
“I haven't heard that much adverse reaction, obviously it will be controversial as it will be construed as wanting to let people in,” he said, “but I want to make the borders much tighter and keep people out who are basically breaking the law.”
“I’m not justifying the policy for reasons for Christian compassion, though you could go on those lines, this is hard headed economic point of view," he said.
"If people aren't contributing to the economy, why don't we let them join in, pay their taxes properly and join in like everyone else?
"It's not necessarily left wing or right wing its economic sense.”
Mr Johnson, who currently is at a property conference in Cannes to promote London as a destination, also defended his policy on skyscappers.
In his election campaign last year he made references to "ugly and phalocratic towers", blighting London, but has since been accused of softening his stance.
"What I have always said is I didn't want to impose tall buildings in defiance of the wishes of local boroughs. In every case where I have acceded to a tall building going ahead it is because the local borough wants it,” he said.
“I have never, never tried to go against a borough and say we have to have some structure even if they don't want it. It would be wrong of me and say no and block that development . . . if local people want to build the tower of Babel then obviously no. My policy is mommothly consist.”
- The Mayor granted the interview in response to our Listen to Business campaign and answered questions from readers’ and businesses.
We will publish his responses and a video of the meeting on this website next week.