Johnson remarks 'careless elitism'
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has accused Boris Johnson of an "unpleasant elitism" after the London mayor warned that some people lacked the "raw ability" to succeed in a competitive economy.
Delivering the Centre for Policy Studies annual Margaret Thatcher lecture last night, Mr Johnson defended the importance of "boardroom greed" and "some measure of inequality" as a spur to economic activity at a time when the income gap between those at the top and those at the bottom was getting ever wider.
He said that any discussion about equality had to take account of the fact that while 16% of "our species" had an IQ below 85 while around 2% had an IQ above 130, adding: "The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top."
Speaking on his weekly radio phone-in on LBC 97.3, Mr Clegg accused the mayor for talking about people as if they were a "breed of dogs" and said politicians should be seeking to improve opportunities for all.
"Much though he is a funny and engaging guy, I think these comments reveal a fairly unpleasant, careless elitism that suggests we should somehow give up on a whole swathe of our fellow citizens," he said.
"The danger is that if you start taking such a deterministic view of people and start saying because they have got a number attached to them - in this case an IQ number - somehow they are not going to rise to the top of the cornflake packet, that is a complete anathema to everything I have always stood for in politics.
"Our job in politics is surely not to simply say we are going to hive off one bunch of people and put them in one category and kind of basically say they are parked and that there is not much we can do about them. Instead what we should be doing is saying we should be instilling an opportunity culture."
Mr Johnson's speech was widely seen has an attempt to shore up his position with the Conservative right and stake his claim as Lady Thatcher's political heir.
Mr Clegg said that it was a sign that many Tories were still obsessed with the Thatcher era.
"They seem to have an absolute fascination to constantly rake over the history of the 1980s. We are 2013, we are not 1986. Times have moved on," he said.
In his speech Mr Johnson argued that a new generation of "Gordon Gekkos" - a reference to the character in the film Wall Street whose mantra was "greed is good" - should do more to help the wider population but that their greed was a "valid motivator".
"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 cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever," he said.
"I stress, 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."
Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: "I don't know whether he has read Boris's speech but what I do know is the PM's view about the importance of equality of opportunity.
"When it comes to the PM's views around the importance of an entrepreneurial economy he gave a speech on the subject recently at the Mansion House," he added.