UK Politics

Boris Johnson: Conservatives must protect low paid

Boris Johnson Image copyright Getty Images

The Tories "cannot ignore the gulf in pay packets that yawns wider" every year, Boris Johnson has told the Conservative Party conference.

He said the government must support the "hardest working and lowest paid" as "we reform welfare and we cut taxes".

He did not mention potential Tory leadership rivals by name.

But he did list the policies one of them, Chancellor George Osborne, had "stolen" - such as the living wage and devolution of tax powers to cities.

The London mayor joked that the "only type of crime currently going up is the theft of City Hall policies by central government", adding that it was "a crime I entirely condone".

Prime Minister David Cameron was in the hall in Manchester to watch Mr Johnson's speech - as he normally does at his party's conference. He sat next to Zac Goldsmith, the man bidding to succeed Mr Johnson as the Conservative mayor of London, who had just delivered his own speech to conference.

Image copyright Reuters

There has been mounting speculation about who will succeed Mr Cameron, who is to step down as Tory leader before the 2020 election, with most of the fancied contenders, including Home Secretary Theresa May, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Mr Johnson himself, making speeches to activists on Tuesday, following Mr Osborne's address on Monday.

'United society'

Mr Johnson's speech was packed with jokes, particularly at the expense of new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and "our crusty friends outside the hall" - a reference to the protesters who have been hurling abuse, and occasionally eggs and other missiles, at Conservatives queuing up to get into the venue.

But he also ranged across "British values," stressing the importance of immigrants learning English. and a defence of capitalism which he claimed was under attack from "Marxist" shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

He called for a "united society" in which "one person's forward progress drives another person's forward progress" but warned that it would not work "if the economic gap between us is allowed to grow too big".

He said that "in 1980 a chief executive of a FTSE 100 company earned about 25 times the average salary of his or her employees" - but that had now grown to 130 times and there were some who paid themselves 780 times more.

People would only accept this if "rich corporations and rich individuals" paid their taxes and "if and only if those firms are paying their employees decently".

'Social media twitstorm'

He added: "We must ensure that as we reform welfare and we cut taxes that we protect the hardest working and lowest paid, the retail staff, the cleaners, who get up in the small hours or work through the night because they have dreams for what their families can achieve."

In a lengthy speech by his conference standards, Mr Johnson claimed the Labour Party had been "piratically captured in a kind of social media twitstorm," by the London Labour Party, who he said he had beaten on two separate occasions at the ballot box and who used the "same ruthless methods as the old colonialists that they purport to despise, in that they believe in divide and rule".

"Will we surrender to the hard-left agitators - preposterously supported by Jeremy Corbyn - who believe in these tactics and want to divide this society?," Mr Johnson asked Tory members, who shouted "no" in response.

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