From entrepreneur to EIR to… mayor?
Read the original: Gemvara founder’s next act
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From entrepreneur to EIR to… mayor?
Read the original: Gemvara founder’s next act
Mayor of London Boris Johnson defends the City of London and bankers during a visit to Paris.
See the rest here: Boris defends bankers on French radio
The EU’s proposed cap on banker bonuses will drive business away from London, says Boris Johnson, the mayor of Europe’s biggest financial centre.
Continued here: EU banker bonus cap ‘self-defeating’
MENIFEE, CA–(Marketwire – Mar 1, 2013) – The recent model grand opening of Brookfield Homes’ Big Sky neighborhood at Audie Murphy Ranch was the talk of the town, drawing more than 700 visitors to this new Menifee address. Enthusiastic guests spent a fun-filled day enjoying a variety of activities, which included a ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor Scott Mann, Councilman John Denver and the Menifee Chamber of Commerce, a pancake breakfast and K-FROG radio opportunity drawing. Guests also enjoyed tours of the beautiful model homes for this family-oriented neighborhood, where big one- and two-story residences are now selling at prices starting from the low $300,000s.
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London Mayor Boris Johnson has described the World Economic Forum as a “a constellation of egos involved in orgies of adulation”.
See more here: VIDEO: Davos a ‘constellation of egos’
London Mayor Boris Johnson has urged people not to “sneer” at the coffee chain Starbucks over its decision to pay £20m in corporation tax.
The Tory grandee on his career, his biggest disappointments – and why he decided to come back and try to help David Cameron sort out the economy
Back in the late 80s, when Lord Heseltine’s daughters were belles of the Sloaney Oxbridge scene, the politician got used to finding their friends cluttering up his stately home. The house-guests were sufficiently gilded to feel at ease in its Palladian splendour – but even to these worldly young things, their friends’ dad must have cut a daunting figure. The multimillionaire darling of the grassroots party faithful had stormed out of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet only a year earlier, and was now prowling the backbenches, preparing to wield the knife that would finish her off.
Heseltine didn’t pay a great deal of attention to his daughters’ friends – “They came and went” – but he does just about remember one. “Which is something, I suppose, because there were a lot of them around, you know. But he was someone who was interested in politics, and therefore we presumably talked about politics. So that’s when I first met him.”
That his house contained a future prime minister would have come as no surprise to Heseltine. He was probably almost certain that it did. He just never dreamed that it wasn’t him, but this callow youth called David Cameron instead. “Your language,” he corrects teasingly, “not mine.” Aren’t all youths a bit callow from a father’s perspective? “I know, I know,” he concedes. “But I’m not in the business of making easy quips about the prime minister.”
He certainly is not. Twenty five years after they first met, Heseltine today is Cameron’s loyal servant, installed in the Department of Business as a kind of spiritual elder. He was first courted by the party’s former policy guru, Steve Hilton, back in 2006, and made chair of the Regional Development Fund in 2010, but it was his recently published review of economic growth, No Stone Unturned, which fully restored him to the headlines. Corporatist, localist, interventionist, the review was vintage Tarzan, and could not fail to raise the question of just how much influence its 79-year-old author enjoys over government today.
If Cameron and his chancellor are wedded to free-market laissez faire, and still believe the private sector will lead the recovery as long as the government gets out of its way, why commission a report from a man who once promised to “intervene before breakfast, before lunch, before tea, before dinner”? Maybe they wanted to appear open to new ideas, but never had the slightest intention of adopting them. Or was George Osborne hoping Heseltine would present a plan B, which could be passed off as plan H as opposed to a U-turn?
Last week Heseltine’s call to put the economy on a “war footing” was endorsed by Cameron, but until the autumn statement next month we won’t know if any of his policy recommendations will be adopted. His proposal for a National Growth Council has been scorned by some Tory critics as a return to the statism of the 70s, while his public-interest test for foreign takeovers looks like quite a tall order in a globalised economy. The plan to devolve almost £50bn to the regions to boost growth sounds like the sort of thing politicians love to espouse in opposition, but quickly go off once in power. The ideological tension between Osborne and a report that states bluntly, “The message I keep hearing is that the UK does not have a strategy for growth and wealth creation,” is surely quite obvious to everyone – but not, it would appear, to its own author.
Private-sector growth, according to Heseltine, has absorbed public-sector jobs precisely as Osborne said it would. “It’s been exactly as forecast.” He claims that in due course, when properly revised, the data will show that there was in fact no double-dip recession, but merely a misreading of the numbers. If growth has been slower than hoped, this is entirely down to the global recession. The government’s economic policy has been blameless.
He doesn’t really believe that, does he? “My report contains 89 recommendations, and every one of them is compatible with government policy.”
Out of interest, would he have made a recommendation that wasn’t? “Probably not, because what’s the point?” Because it might be right? “Ah, yes, you’re on to a very important point,” he agrees quickly, correcting his position. “Would I, if I had believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with government policy? Yes, I would have had to say that, because otherwise the report would not have had the credibility, because in the end it’s a very personal report. So, yes, I would have said it. But fortunately I didn’t have to. Because what they’re doing, in my view, is right.” Then he adds a point that feels rather telling. “It’s an extraordinarily privileged position to be trusted. None of them – no minister, no special adviser – saw the report until it was on its way to the printers. Not a word was changed as a result of government pressure. Not a word. I think that’s an incredibly impressive thing for a government to do.”
How does he interpret that? “Well, there’s only one way to interpret it. Obviously they were interested in what I had to say, or they wouldn’t have set me up.” He pauses to chuckle. “I come with baggage. I’ve been around for much too long and people know what I think and what I believe and what I’ve done, so they can’t have been in any way surprised.”
He’s right about that – but doesn’t that make him a Trojan horse for plan B? “I don’t think it is plan B, you see. I think it is the logic of what they’ve done. Localism, City Deals, the attempt to get mayors, Eric Pickles’ work on local business rates. All I’ve done is say: ‘Well, look, take it a step further. Co-ordinate it, do it bigger, now let’s go for it.’”
I think Heseltine would sooner burn down his own stately home than gift the government’s critics a disloyal headline. He’s had 50 years in politics to perfect the art of presenting incompatible positions as perfectly congruous, and with the exception of Peter Mandelson I can’t think of any politician whose delight in his own mastery of the art is more palpable, or more languid. The Guardian’s economics editor, I remind him, thinks his report is destined for the long grass. If he’s right, will it still have been worth it? “Well I had a wonderful 10 months, and an incredible team of civil servants, and I sort of got it off my chest.”
Heseltine had a minor heart attack in 1993, and will turn 80 next year, but when we meet he has been in his office at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills since 9am, will spend the afternoon at his publishing company, Haymarket, and deliver a speech that evening at the LSE. He never had any time for the social side of politics, and was famously hopeless at schmoozing MPs in Westminster’s bars and tea rooms – “That is true,” he agrees drily – so in many ways the role of elder statesman suits him rather well. He can be lofty and Olympian, elevated above the tiresome business of courting allies and ingratiating enemies, which must be a glorious relief. Even so, doesn’t he ever get a tiny bit bored with politics?
“Never. You can’t be bored! How can you be bored with the opportunity I just had?” Besides: “I was born with too much energy, that’s the truth of it. I don’t stop. I just get up and do things all the time. You must address this question to the Almighty; He gave me the energy, and here I am. It’s for the opportunities. It’s for the things you can achieve.”
The son of a Welsh colonel, Heseltine was born in Swansea in 1933 and educated at Shrewsbury and Oxford. Severe dyslexia meant he was never going to be a stellar scholar, but didn’t stop him founding Haymarket, which had made him his fortune by the time he was elected to parliament in 1966. He served under Edward Heath as a junior minister in the early 70s, and joined the cabinet under Thatcher in 1979, to become the poster boy for urban regeneration following the Brixton and Liverpool riots of 1981, before resigning in 1986 over the Westland helicopter affair. After losing to John Major in the leadership race of 1990 he served as President of the Board of Trade and deputy prime minister.
Heseltine’s achievements have been matched by conspicuous failures, but his self belief is almost thrillingly impregnable, making him quite impervious to any such impression. As the Tories’ great Europhile he was forever arguing for us to join the euro, and when I ask how the Eurozone crisis has altered his view he says: “It hasn’t changed at all. It hasn’t changed at all.” He still wants us to join the euro? “We will one day.”
So even, I begin to ask, when he sees the streets of Greece on fire – “The streets of Greece are always on fire,” he interrupts softly, with magnificent ennui. “All my life there have been demos much bigger and more violent than the current ones. But I see Greece holding elections and winning for the government in favour of the European entrenchment policy.” He’s certain the euro will survive, and equally certain we will one day join. “I have one huge problem, which is that I’ve lived for a very long time, and I’ve seen all these arguments endlessly recycled. We didn’t want to join Europe – and then, let’s put it politely, we changed our mind.” He can see no merit in a fresh referendum on EU membership, “Because I personally believe that the job of government is to govern. The creeping use of referenda I don’t go for myself.”
His passionate support for elected mayors remains entirely unaltered by their rejection at the polls in nine of the 10 local referenda held last May. Yet their unpopularity, Heseltine maintains airily, in no way discredits the policy. The only mistake was to call referenda in the first place, when the government should simply have made the new mayoral positions a fait accompli. “The referenda were lost because there was total public disinterest. Complete lack of interest.”
But surely elected mayors only make sense as an expression of local interest. If there is none, maybe they weren’t such a good idea? “Ah, the reason why they don’t vote is that they don’t think it matters and they don’t understand the issues. There is no comprehension of what localism could mean, because we haven’t got it. Now, you can make great speeches about the purity of democracy and the value of it all – and no one would do so more than me – but let’s not miss the point that the central monopoly in this country is such that it has completely deadened any sense of locality and powerfulness, and that’s a very unhealthy position.”
He did briefly consider running for mayor of London himself in 2000, before deciding he was too old. He thinks Boris Johnson is fabulous – “I’m a great Boris fan” – but when I ask if he thinks he’d make a good prime minster he won’t be drawn. “I don’t think we’re discussing that. I think he should finish the job of being mayor.”
Johnson is in many ways the obvious heir to Heseltine – adored by the party faithful but distrusted by politicians, famous for his mane and feared for his ambition. Central to the Heseltine mythology is the back of an envelope on which he is said to have sketched out his life’s mission while still an undergraduate – by 25, become a millionaire; by 35, an MP; by 45, a minister; by 55, Downing Street. The envelope has become parliamentary shorthand for the vulgar hubris of ambition – but Heseltine doesn’t think it ever existed.
“Well it’s so uncharacteristic of me that I don’t believe it. I’ve no recollection of it, and it just doesn’t ring true.” The source of the story was Julian Critchley, a fellow Tory MP, “And Julian was a good friend of mine, and he said this and wrote about it many times, but I’ve never accepted it. I just don’t think it sounds like me. I’m too cautious.”
Another piece of Heseltine folklore is a fabulously snobby comment attributed to the late political diarist Alan Clark who sneered: “The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture.” Did he ever bring it up with Clark? “Well no one knows who said it,” Heseltine demurs, but I’m not sure how convincingly, because moments later he adds icily, “I think he was very lucky that he had a father that could afford to buy his. My father couldn’t afford to buy his.”
It’s funny to think that Heseltine was once regarded as an arriviste – a bit nouveau, ever so slightly non-U – now that he’s the grandest of grandees. His wealth is reported to be somewhere in the order of £250m, and has bought him all the luxuries and pleasures of old money, in particular his beloved 50-acre arboretum, which he considers his legacy. He has a butler and nine gardeners, and there is more has more than a touch of a Jane Austen character about him these days. “With privilege comes responsibility,” he has said. “It’s a philosophy I had all my political life, in other words good enlightened capitalism – paternalism if you like. Noblesse oblige.”
He feels centuries apart from a modern politician such as Nadine Dorries, whose jungle sabbatical elicits a chilly shudder. “The whole thing to me is extraordinary.” What did he make of her claim that times have changed, and politicians today should communicate with voters through popular television? “It hasn’t changed. Nothing has changed. Nothing is new in politics.” Ten million people turned on to see Dorries every night, though, but they don’t watch prime minister’s questions. “On that basis,” he observes crisply, “you could have a Muppet elected.” Some people think that’s what we’ve got. “Well I think the evidence is to the contrary. Cameron is an immensely serious and able guy.”
If it stings Heseltine to lavish loyal praise on his daughter’s old friend from the chorus line, he never once lets it show. Critics used to love making fun of his vanity, but today it comes across as dignity. Heseltine always used to be coy about his prime-ministerial ambition, affecting implausible innocence; “My position is a very simple one,” he once claimed, “I have never sought preferment in the Conservative party.” That was a lie, obviously – but when disingenuousness is perfected to an art form, its sheer audacity is hard not to admire. So when I ask him to name the single greatest disappointment of his life, it’s only out of curiosity to see what he’ll find to substitute for the unbearable truth.
“Oh I think it would have to be not being prime minister, of course,” he admits softly. I almost think I must have misheard. “Yes,” he repeats, “life’s been very kind to me, so I don’t have many disappointments. But I would have liked to have been prime minister.”
The 685th lord mayor of London takes up his post today and his brief is to promote and support the people and businesses of the City of London.