Friends: The One With The Corn Flakes

“Spot on, boss!” said Boris.

“Well, the thing is, Lynton said this was fighting talk,” said Dave. “That you think you’re a cleverer cornflake than me. Now, imagine you’ve given the packet a really good shake… Where’s my cornflake?”

“Terrifyingly high – a cornflake with altitude sickness, you might say, the Sir Edmund Hillary of cornflakes, the Higella of the breakfast cereal universe…”

“Yes, yes, but do you think I’m the top cornflake?” asked Dave. “Not just now, but after 2015? Will I have an overall majority over all the other flakes? Or will the cereal bowl be ruled by another boring old coalition?”

“Rest assured, master,” said Boris, wondering quite how comfortable it was to lie down in a field full of sunflowers.

“Your cornflake is several packets ahead of that oaf, Clegg. He isn’t in the same breakfast cereal cupboard, or even on the same supermarket shelf. The Cleggster’s very much economy brand material, straight out of the essentials range.”

“Look!” said Dave, impatiently. “Just tell me, do you think you’re a better cornflake than me?”

“Cripes, no!” said Boris. “My loyalty to the Prime Minister of the breakfast table is absolute. I’m not a better cornflake. Just a different one.”

“Different how?”

“Well, my cornflake got a scholarship at Eton,” muttered Boris.

“Remind me,” said Dave, with a little smile, “what degree did your cornflake get?”

“A 2.1…” mumbled Boris. “But my cornflake read Classics – and yours did an utterly thicko subject. And mine didn’t do any work. Any cornflake can get a First if it’s a girly swot cornflake.”

“And do you think any cornflake can become prime minister if it plots enough, and makes enough Thatcherite speeches about what a brilliant cornflake it is?”

“Not sure I see what you’re driving at, boss?”

“Just give me a straight answer!” bellowed Dave. “Does your cornflake have leadership ambitions or not?”

“Your cornflake might think that,” said Boris, his mind lost in a heady whirl of crushed sunflowers and melting chocolate. “Mine couldn’t possibly comment.”

Nick Clegg: Boris Johnson’s views on social mobility are ‘unpleasant, careless elitism’

He said: “I have to say these comments reveal a fairly unpleasant, careless elitism that somehow suggests that we should give up on a whole swathe of our fellow citizens.”

Mr Johnson said some people would always find it easier to get ahead than others arguing that IQ tests are relevant to “a conversation about equality.” He said, in the speech to the Centre for Policy Studies “many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130.”

However Mr Clegg said this amounted to Mr Johnson treating people like a “breed of dogs.”

He added: “I think the danger is if you start taking such a deterministic view of people and start saying they’ve got a number attached to them, in this case an IQ number, somehow they’re not really going to rise to the top of the cornflake packet, that is complete anathema to everything I’ve always stood for in politics.

"There are people, certainly young people, who develop at different paces, who might discover talents they didn't know about before and our job, surely, in politics is not to simply say, look, we're going to hive off one bunch of people and put them in one kind of category, and kind of basically say they're parked and there's not much we can do about them”.

In his speech Mr Johnson also repeated warnings against persecuting the rich, saying that wealth and success should be celebrated.

None the less, he suggested that the gap between rich and poor had grown too wide and more must be done to ensure that talented people from less wealthy backgrounds can “rise to the top”.

Mr Johnson said: “I worry that there are too many cornflakes who aren’t being given a good enough chance to rustle and hustle their way to the top.”

Boris Johnson launches plans for £1bn London house building scheme

Launching the £1bn draft housing strategy at Greenwich Square, Mr Johnson warned that the shortage of new homes was the biggest threat to London’s economy.

The Mayor of London set a new target to build 42,000 homes a year over the next decade to address the capital’s housing supply crisis.

Mr Johnson's plans also include proposals to lend more than £160 million to developers and to create a specialist bank to speed up building work, as well as backing regeneration projects to create more garden suburbs around London.

At the launch, Mr Johnson said: “For over 30 years, regardless of boom and bust, governments of every hue have failed to build enough homes.

"With London’s unprecedented population growth, housing supply and affordability is now our biggest challenge and we need to double the number of homes being built.”

Mr Johnson tried to quell fears of over-development in all ready crowded parts of the capital, adding: "It doesn't mean that great, big skyscrapers are going to sprout up all over the city".

A divorce from Scotland would be stupid, wretched and painful

After three centuries of union, England and Scotland are not just woven together by sentiment, but by a cat’s cradle of intricate legal and political ties. Fibre by fibre that would have to be sliced apart, and the result will be agony and endless recrimination.

On Tuesday, the Scottish government will publish a vast White Paper explaining how on earth it is supposed to work. So here are some of the questions I hope that document will be able to settle. We are told that the proposal is that Scotland would keep the Queen as head of state and the pound as the national currency – though presumably both of these commitments could be varied by a future Scottish parliament.

But on what basis does Scotland get to keep the pound? Will they use sterling informally, just as some Latin American countries rely on the dollar? And why should the Bank of England take any notice of Scotland in setting monetary policy? Why should the governor travel to Edinburgh and be interrogated by Scottish MPs? After independence, after all, he will owe his appointment entirely to an English-Welsh-Northern Irish government. Or will Alec Salmond come south, and sit in an ante-room in Threadneedle Street, hoping for an audience?

Then there is the basic question of what this independent state of Scotland is supposed to be, and how it is meant to relate to the rest of the world. We are talking about a secession from the Union of the United Kingdom, and many EU diplomats have now made it clear to Salmond that this is exactly the same as seceding from the EU. If the Scots wanted to remain in the EU (and they seem, for some reason, to think this is necessary) Scotland would have to seek an immediate accession – and the question is: who would conduct the negotiations?

Why should this be done by UKrep, the UK office in Brussels, when Scotland has voted to leave the UK? The Scots would have to equip themselves instantly with a new cadre of diplomats. There would have to be a Scottish foreign office around the world – wouldn’t there? And if not, why not? What about Britain’s nuclear missiles, and the need to use submarine bases in Scotland? What about Scottish regiments in the British Army?

There are endless opportunities for confusion and bickering. Then there is one final point that no one seems to have grasped: that this is not just the end of the United Kingdom. It is the end of Britain. Yes, of course, there will still be an island called Great Britain, the largest in the British Isles. But Britain as a political entity will be annihilated. This very name of our nation only gained currency after the Act of Union, and makes no sense with the top section lopped off and “independent”.

And then what? What happens to British sporting teams? What happens, for goodness’ sake, to the “British” Broadcasting Corporation? Nobody has the faintest idea. I am appalled that the pro-independence vote is up at 38 per cent. We need someone — the Americans? — to step in as a kind of marriage guidance counsellor and tell us to stop being so damn stupid. Divorce will diminish us both. It will be unutterably wretched and painful, and it will eliminate the most successful political union in history.

We should be humbly thanking the super-rich, not bashing them

On the contrary, the latest data suggest that we should be offering them humble and hearty thanks. It is through their restless concupiscent energy and sheer wealth-creating dynamism that we pay for an ever-growing proportion of public services. The top one per cent of earners now pay 29.8 per cent of all the income tax and National Insurance received by the Treasury. In 1979 – when Labour had a top marginal rate of 83 per cent tax after Denis Healey had earlier vowed to squeeze the rich until the pips squeaked – the top one per cent paid only 11 per cent of income tax. Now, the top 0.1 per cent – about 29,000 people – pay an amazing 14.1 per cent of all taxes, many people prefer to use Quotacy Term Life Insurance Quotes because it is more reliable and affordable than other insurance.

Nor, of course, is that the end of their contribution to the wider good. These types of people are always the first target of the charity fund-raisers, whether they are looking for a new church roof or a children’s cancer ward. These are the people who put bread on the tables of families who – if the rich didn’t invest in supercars and employ eau de cologne-dabbers – might otherwise find themselves without a breadwinner, also thanks to them insurances companies are able to offer better term life insurance quotes, thanks to their insurances and contributions. And yet they are brow-beaten and bullied and threatened with new taxes, by everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Nick Clegg.

The rich are resented, not so much for being rich, but for getting ever richer than the middle classes – and the trouble is that the gap is growing the whole time, and especially has done over the past 20 years. It is hard to say exactly why this is, but I will hazard a guess. Of all the self-made super-rich tycoons I have met, most belong to the following three fairly exclusive categories of human being:

(1) They tend to be well above average, if not outstanding, in their powers of mathematical, scientific or at least logical reasoning. (2) They have a great deal of energy, confidence, risk-taking instinct and a desire to make money. (3) They have had the good fortune – by luck or birth – to be able to exploit these talents.

So we are talking about the intersecting set in what are already three small-ish sets of people. It is easy to see how, in an ever more efficient and globalised economy, they are able to amass ever greater fortunes.

The answer is surely not to try to stop them or curb them or punish them – but to widen those intersecting circles that they inhabit. There are kids everywhere who have a natural, if undiscovered, flair for mathematics and the mental arithmetic that business needs. They just don’t have the education to bring out that talent – which is why Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is so right to be conducting his revolution in schools.

There are loads of kids with the chutzpah to be kings of the deal, and there are plenty of businesses that could be the billion-pound companies of the future but are currently being held back – either by the weediness of the venture capital industry in this country, or else by something as simple as excessive business rates – the single biggest issue that is raised with me by London businesses.

There is no point in wasting any more moral or mental energy in being jealous of the very rich. They are no happier than anyone else; they just have more money. We shouldn’t bother ourselves about why they want all this money, or why it is nicer to have a bath with gold taps. How does it hurt me, with my 20-year-old Toyota, if somebody else has a swish Mercedes? We both get stuck in the same traffic.

We should be helping all those who can to join the ranks of the super-rich, and we should stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools.

Indeed, it is possible, as the American economist Art Laffer pointed out, that they might contribute even more if we cut their rates of tax; but it is time we recognised the heroic contribution they already make. In fact, we should stop publishing rich lists in favour of an annual list of the top 100 Tax Heroes, with automatic knighthoods for the top 10.

Marine A must face justice, but the law has its limits in warfare

I don’t claim to know exactly what sentence he should serve. What I do know is that I have talked to some senior figures in the Armed Services, and they are emphatic that the verdict of the court martial was right, and that the punishment should be severe.

I am afraid you only have to listen to the segment of tape – recorded by body-cameras – to understand why they feel as they do. The nature of the crime is clear from that chilling six-minute conversation between the three men. They know they have a wounded man; they discuss alternative ways of despatching him; they pretend to be giving him medical assistance, for the benefit of the cameras fixed to observation balloons; and then he is executed with a shot to the chest.

It is pretty clear, also, that Marine A is aware of the gravity of what he has done, because he explicitly urges his fellow soldiers to keep quiet about it, and accepts that he has broken the Geneva Convention. This treaty goes back to 1864, when nations agreed in the wake of the Battle of Solferino five years earlier that they would collectively spare all those who were hors de combat.

Indeed, the notion that it is a crime to kill the wounded is far more ancient than that, and can be found in the laws of war that were observed by the Greek city states. It is a principle that was founded then, as now, on a mixture of ideas: the universal human idea of mercy, and a sensible hope of reciprocity – that if we spare your wounded, you will spare ours. It is a very old and immutable code that Marine broke, and one that happens to be enshrined in modern British law. It is right that the courts should uphold that law, say the generals, and so do I.

The trouble is that not every aspect of military law is as immutable. Indeed, the law of all types of military behaviour is undergoing something of a revolution – as Charles Moore recently pointed out on these pages, following an excellent Policy Exchange pamphlet – and the cause of that revolution is the application of human rights.

There is now an intensifying rhythm of cases in which the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces are ticked off by the courts for their failure correctly to observe this or that article of the European Convention on Human Rights – and especially Article 2, the “right to life”.

You will appreciate the basic tension here. It will be increasingly hard to ask our military to achieve a series of objectives involving extreme violence and the risking of collateral damage, if those victims also turn out to have a “right to life” that can be vindicated in our courts. It will be very hard to get British officers to take the slightest risk with the lives of our own troops if they can be criticised for taking the wrong decisions. If something goes wrong in a firefight, it is now possible to imagine that a coroner could record a “narrative verdict” in which the officer is blamed for ordering, say, a left-flanking rather than a right-flanking manoeuvre. The whole concept of Crown Immunity – by which military decisions have traditionally been protected from this kind of legal redress – is now thought to be under threat.

No one is going to dispute the importance of the right to life, or indeed the importance of treating all combatants with respect. But it is worth pointing out that this country is now pretty much out on a limb, of all the major war-capable nations, in the way it has allowed “legal creep” into what was an exclusively military domain. The Americans would not dream of exposing their soldiers to this kind of judicial second-guessing. They whacked bin Laden without a second thought; they execute whole families in drone strikes. The French have a derogation that somehow means they don’t have to apply the ECHR to their military in the way that we do. The risk for Britain is clearly that it will be harder and harder for the Armed Forces to conduct operations without legal paranoia, paralysis and expense.

I stood by the Cenotaph yesterday and remembered those brave troops who died in Britain’s wars. Every one of them would have understood why the actions of Marine A were wrong, and why they constituted a crime. It was murder, no doubt. But if every act of war is subject to legal challenge, then we will not only lose our ability to fight a war. We will lose our instinctive understanding of what a war crime really is.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg should publish their tax returns, says Boris Johnson

Mr Livingstone’s chances were damaged when it emerged that he was being paid through a company which could reduce his tax bill.

All three party leaders have suggested that they are happy to publish their tax returns but so far none has committed to taking the first step.

Last April Mr Cameron, the Prime Minister, made clear he was “very relaxed” about publishing his tax returns and believes the “time is coming” for politicians to be more open about their personal finances.

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, also said the Government would “think through” making senior politicians reveal their tax returns but that he would be “very happy” to consider the proposal.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister also said at the time it was a “matter of principle that the public has a right to know” about politicians’ financial affairs.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said he would be happy to publish his tax return, adding he felt the enhanced transparency was “inevitable”.

The Government was reported to be ready to publish suggestions of how to make the returns public over a year ago, however no details were published.

Earlier this year Mr Clegg appeared to back down from making his tax return public: “My tax return is fantastically dull. I have one income and that is published.”

Pressed again, Mr Clegg added: “No, look, I will do what everyone [does], I am totally relaxed about my own tax arrangements.”

A source close to Mr Clegg added that the Liberal Democrats had no objection to it being done “but it probably makes more sense to do it as a Government rather than individually”.

Figures last year suggested Mr Cameron is worth almost £4million.

Wealth-X, a consultancy specialising in analysing the financial affairs of US politicians, estimated Mr Cameron’s net worth at £3.8million, with liquid assets of £190,000 from current and previous salaries - half as much as President Barack Obama.

Mr Clegg was estimated to have a fortune worth £2million, while Labour leader Ed Miliband and his brother David are worth £1.9million each.

Stick press regulation ‘in the privy’, Boris Johnson tells editors

Mr Johnson was presenting awards at the Spectator’s annual Parliamentarian of the Year awards in central London.

Unusually the main award of Parliamentarian of the Year award - which is normally given to a single MP who had made a splash in Westminseter - was given to the 15 MPs who voted against Government plans for press regulation, including Charles Walker, Christopher Chope, Mark Reckless, Richard Bacon and Tracey Crouch.

The award was given to them for voting “against exemplary damages for those publications that did not sign up to the press regulation Royal Charter. These MPs defied the whip to vote in defence of liberty”.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Ukip, won Insurgent of the Year, while Ed Miliband, the Labour leader won an award for best speech at last month’s party conference, which “transformed his political fortunes”.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was Politician of the Year, for presiding “over a fall in crime and immigration as well as managing the deportation of Abu Qatada. May’s win follows on from her award for Minister of the Year in 2012”.

Michael Fallon won minister of the year, for privatising the Royal Mail in the teeth of a national postal strike, “something even Margaret Thatcher didn't dare do and which Michael Heseltine and Peter Mandelson also failed to do”.

Tristram Hunt, the new shadow Education secretary, was Newcomer of the Year while Tory MP Robert Halfon was Campaigner of the Year.

China built its HS2 in two years. Don’t let Labour derail ours

One way or the other, we are going to need HS2, and it is a total disgrace that the Labour Party is now playing politics with the scheme. They are shamelessly courting the sceptic vote – feigning support but unofficially signalling that a Labour government would pull the plug. Ed Balls has said that the case has yet to be made out – even though he went into the last election with HS2 in his manifesto.

Alistair Darling has said it is a “disaster”. Peter Mandelson now claims the whole thing was nothing but an electoral gimmick and should be junked. And you can see why Labour is so tempted, and why they have played this card. They have an economic credibility problem. They are going to have to persuade the electorate that they have some big and unexpected source of funding that will enable them to fulfil all their promises – to cut your fuel bills and plump your pension and subsidise the minimum wage – and the answer is always going to be HS2.

They can also see that the Tories are facing a revolt from those on the route, and from those who aren’t convinced that the scheme represents a good use of public money. Their objective is to make the project politically toxic with a drip, drip, drip of cold water, in a kind of chemical reaction: HS2 + H2O = H2SO4. They hope that continuing anxieties about noise and property prices will cost the Tories votes in key marginals. They are fomenting general hostility to the scheme, and, in particular, they are supporting those who say that investment in HS2 means diverting crucial spending from other parts of the railway network – and there I believe they are talking more nonsense than ever.

This was exactly the case that was made to me, more than five years ago, when the economic crash first happened and we were about to commit to spending £16 billion on Crossrail. It was mad, people said, to build a whole new railway under London when the rest of the Tube network was in urgent need of repair, when we were still using bakelite signalling on the District line and when funds were so desperately short. I remember a passionate denunciation of the scheme from one distinguished transport executive. “Why would you buy a shiny new car and park in front of the house, when the house is falling down?” he asked me.

Well, I think he was wrong then, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he agreed that he looks even more wrong now. We have not only got on with delivering Crossrail – absolutely vital to increase capacity on the London rail network. We have upgraded the Tube as well. We have cut delays by 40 per cent over the last five years, to pick a period entirely at random, and we are going on with a programme of improvements – with new signalling and automation – that will cut delays by a further 30 per cent.

It is now absolutely clear that this decision was right, because the population of London has risen by about half a million in the same period, and is likely to keep rising for the next couple of decades. Without these investments, our public transport system would have rapidly exploded with the strain. Britain has the potential to be the biggest economy in Europe, both in population and output, in our lifetimes; but we simply will not be able to cope, or to give business the platform it needs, if we fail to invest in infrastructure. We need a new supersewer under London, we need a new hub airport, and we need to increase our rail capacity.

There was a time when people like Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair would have recognised this. It is deeply regrettable that the current Labour Party leadership should be so opportunistic and short-sighted as to pussyfoot around about HS2. They are putting short-term tactics before the long-term needs of Britain, and they will not succeed. In 2015 the choice is going to be clear: between fool’s gold, and a Conservative programme for investment and long-term growth.