The NS Interview: Boris Johnson

“This recession wasn’t caused by unions, it was bankers”

What's your favourite place in London?
I might mention Greenwich, where we used to go for picnics, or Highbury Fields, where I go and smoke cigars and stare at the sky. But you know what? I am increasingly taken by the view from the office in City Hall.

What's your priority for the capital as mayor?
There is not a day that passes when I don't curse this recession, and curse the government for the role it played in screwing up the economy. So my top priority is to get our capital through the downturn - giving cut-price travel to those in search of work and the over-sixties, and doing everything we can to keep the housing industry moving.

How can London make it past the downturn?
There are some parts of the economy that have proved astonishingly resilient, and I am completely confident that things will pick up strongly by the back end of this year. We are one of the only European cities to have a young and growing population. We are going through a neo-Victorian age of transport investment - the Tube upgrades, the Thames Tideway tunnel - and my job as mayor is to keep blapping ministers between the eyes until they understand that it would be utter madness to cut infrastructure projects that will increase com­petitiveness. So the plan is simple: lengthen London's lead as the best big city on earth.

What will be your biggest achievement as mayor?
Asking that is like peering into a crib full of octuplets and asking the proud mother which baby will be the brightest. It's just too early to say, and I don't want to jinx things by boasting.

I am pleased with our success in fighting crime - down 9 per cent in the first 21 months of my mayoralty - and especially in tackling knife crime and aggro on public transport, both issues on which I campaigned.

We already have more electric cars than any other city in Europe, and you should not ­underestimate my militant determination to increase cycling. I am a proud former motoring correspondent for GQ magazine, but we are crazy to be making so many short journeys by car. Cycling went up 10 per cent in my first year, and we are hoping to have further success this year. I know how unpopular bikes can be, but we are going ahead full tilt in the serene confidence that it is the right thing for London.

Who is your hero?
Pericles. At the age of about 12, I read that bit where he defines a democracy and an open society - equality under the law, advancement based on merit, freedom to do what you want provided you don't harm others - and I remember thinking that this was what I believed in.

I remember passionately identifying this way of life with America; this was during the cold war. I identified Sparta - nasty, closed, militaristic, authoritarian - with socialist Russia.

Are bankers much maligned?
Let's face it, this recession was not caused by union militancy or oil prices. It was caused by bankers taking too many risks. That is why I said it was outrageous that they continue to pay themselves stonking bonuses, as though nothing had happened. Where I differ from some commentators is on whether it would be a good idea to attack the financial services industry, to hack it back and sack them all in the demented belief that manufacturing would somehow plug the gap.

What place should banking hold in Britain's economy?
London happens to be a world leader in a business that is indispensable to a market economy. That business generates stupendous tax revenues. It attracts people of talent and spending power to our city. I certainly believe these people need to make a much bigger contribution to the lives of people around them. But it is one thing to insist that bankers show a greater sense of duty to society, and another to launch a wholesale attack on a sector that is of huge ­economic importance.

Do you support the 50p tax on high earners?
We can't expect to muddle along for ever with a top rate of tax considerably higher than most of our serious competitors, including Germany, France, Italy, China, Switzerland, Australia and America. So the answer is no.

Should Britain leave the EU?
No. But it was a scandal that Labour got re-elected by promising a referendum on Lisbon, and then failed to deliver.

What do you like about David Cameron?
He's a nice guy but he's also tough as old boots. And I very much like the fact that he's about to be Prime Minister.

Does class matter any more?
Ask Harriet Harman - an Old Paulina whose uncle Lord Longford was a very sound Bullingdon man.

Are we all doomed?
Of course not.

Defining moments

1964 Born in New York
1986 Graduates from Oxford and joins the Times. Later fired for falsifying a quote
1994 Assistant editor, Daily Telegraph
1999 Appointed editor of the Spectator
2001 Elected as MP for Henley
2003 Vice-chairman of the Conservatives, then shadow minister for the arts
2004 Removed from both party posts following an affair with Petronella Wyatt
2008 Elected Mayor of London