Boris Johnson: I want to put an end to London’s poverty gap
08:32 06 February 2011
Read our exclusive interview with the man determined to cut the gap between London’s rich and poor.
"I want to see even more being done by bankers and all those in possession of a substantial disposable income"
BORIS Johnson sits and doodles furiously for almost our entire interview.
Like the naughty child at the back of class he simply cannot sit still, retracing the same basic shapes a thousand times as he grasps for his thoughts.
His papers, almost covered in Biro ink at the end of our 20-minute interview, tell you everything you need to know about London’s Mayor.
While he may appear disorganised, dishevelled and with a hyperactive personality, the product of his efforts are measured and thoughtful – a frenzied means to a polished end.
Boris has plenty to occupy his mind – restoring the fragile London economy, contending with Tube strikes (which he promised to end back in 2008) and preparing for a re-match election in 2012 with old foe Ken Livingstone.
But the old Etonian says these issues are overshadowed by the biggest test of his Mayoralty – bridging the gaping hole between London’s haves and have-nots.
“I want to see a much greater sense of community between the rich and poor,” he explained.
“Cutting the gap between the rich and poor is always the biggest challenge. London historically is a city where the politicians have to mediate between the wealth creators and the rest of society.
“London has always been this place of huge talent and opportunity where people come and make a success of themselves. Generally speaking we have made it work by getting people to do enough for the poorest and the neediest.”
With that in mind, expect a brand new policy by this summer called Team London.
Boris wants to bring the business community of Docklands into direct contact with local communities. He wants working partnerships, fundraising drives, volunteering and workers giving their time and experience to help those in the most need.
“It will support getting business and the banks to make a positive contribution in the community,” he added.
“One of the keys is to drive apprenticeships and one of the problems we have is in youth unemployment – particularly in east London among ethnic minorities.
“People are worried about jobs for young people. We’re going to keep driving transport infrastructure and keep investing but also make sure business takes on many more young people.
“I want to see even more being done by bankers and all those in possession of a substantial disposable income and firms who really can help.
“They won’t regret it. They take on people and turn people’s lives around and at the same time get huge benefits for their companies.”
Social inequality in the East End may be a surprising cause celebre for a Mayor associated with a privileged background and west London roots.
Certainly, there are many in this part of the capital who feel they have yet to see what Boris Johnson’s London really consists of.
He talks proudly of extensions to the East London Line and DLR, but these were the brainchild of Ken’s administration. What will we credit to Boris in the years to come?
“I’m determined to go ahead with the maximum benefits from the Olympics.
“Stratford will be a brilliant transport hub and we will push on after 2012 with new links. We hope to put in a cable car before the Olympics – it’s going to be tough but we’re looking at that, a Silvertown crossing and a new tunnel.
“That will be a fantastic improvement for east London and south-east London. Beyond that I want a further crossing in the Gallions Reach area.”
Boris’ office is on the fifth floor of City Hall, looking out over Tower Bridge. Canary Wharf is usually visible on a good day and the Olympic Stadium just about in sight if you squint.
As well as a full-sized ‘Boris Bike’ and bookshelf stacked with novels (Shakespeare’s complete works, Greek classics, as you’d expect) is an Olympic flag similar to the one he waved so memorably in Beijing in 2008.
The flag is apt, as the Olympics crops up constantly throughout our interview.
“You’re seeing real transformation at Stratford and we’re getting things done,” he said. “We have the Orbit tower and whatever you think about it people working there say it is creating a cluster. Then I have ideas for what I call The Fly.”
Ah yes, the fly: such a bolt out of the blue even Boris’ listening press officer hasn’t heard of it before. The Mayor wants to build an airborne cycling monorail on the site of the Olympic Park.
“You do remember that Simpson episode where they blew their budget on a pointless Monorail?” I ask.
“Don’t worry,” he laughs. “It won’t be anything like that.”