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Boris predicts pre-election tax cut
Chancellor George Osborne is "almost certain" to announce a cut in personal income tax before the 2015 general election, Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson has suggested.
The prediction came at a Westminster lunch, where Mr Johnson said that he believed that, as growth returns, the Government should "eventually" use some of the proceeds to cut tax.
The London Mayor also said the Conservatives should position themselves as the "home-delivering party" with a massive programme of house-building and take action to address inequality by tackling the lack of affordable homes. Although a "free market Tory", he said that his experience as Mayor had persuaded him that Government had to take a "leading role" in big strategic projects of this type.
He flatly denied that he would be an MP in time for the general election, and dismissed suggestions that the Tories would have more chance of victory with him at the helm as "absolutely mad", though he did hold the door open for a return to Westminster when asked what he was planning to do after his second term ends in 2016, replying "Who knows?"
Addressing a Westminster lunch, Mr Johnson once more played down speculation that he might succeed David Cameron as Tory chief and rejected the idea that a Conservative leadership contest which did not involve him would be "illegitimate".
"Of course not," he replied. "I'm flattered that you should even ask the question. My career... .has been chequered with most extraordinary cataclysmic reverses. I can't imagine I will be called upon to serve in that office, a nd I've got two and a half years left as Mayor of London, so I've got to get on and do that."
Asked if he will be an MP in 2015, Mr Johnson replied: "No, because I have got a huge amount of work to do and I have got to get on and deliver a colossal amount of stuff in London. What happens after two and a half years of being Mayor, who knows?
"Something will crop up. I've always wanted to have a career in romantic fiction, so something like that. Most people would agree I have been very lucky to be Mayor. What I've said about it since I was elected is that I thought it was probably the last big job I would do in public life, and I stick to that."
With rising GDP growth in recent quarters fuelling speculation that the Chancellor may be planning a tax giveaway before the 2015 election, Mr Johnson was asked whether the "proceeds of growth" should in part go towards cuts in personal income tax.
He replied: "Eventually, yes. There is no question in my mind. And by the way I'm almost certain that George will do that at some stage in this Parliament."
Mr Johnson acknowledged that inequality had been "getting worse" in London, adding: "Inequality is only tolerable if you look after the people who cannot hope to compete fairly and if you give opportunity. At the moment what I am worried about is that we have a society that isn't.
"We've got to find a way of making sure that every Londoner feels that the growth and the success of the city offers something for them. Employment is the number one thing, but housing is absolutely critical. If people feel that they cannot afford to live anywhere near their place of work then you will have serious problems in the city."
Mr Johnson said there were signs of the top end of London's booming housing market "softening" a little, but made clear he saw no prospect of a slackening in the overall demand for houses which has pushed home purchases and rentals out of the reach of many lower-income households.
"At the top end of the market in London you are unquestionably going to start to see, in my view, some softening, because some of the prices are completely crazy," he said. "But you've got to face the fact that the demand is also insane.
"In the last few years since I've been mayor, the population of London has gone up by 600,000. The demand for housing in our city is absolutely incredible and I think that the mere strength of that demand is likely to sustain values for a very long time.
"I think that the only way to tackle the problem is to build huge numbers of new homes, and my party will win if we get behind people's aspiration to have a house, to have a home, to have a share in the value of their home where possible. That's something that huge numbers of people in our country want and currently feel unable to have.
"If we can do that, if we can be the home-building, the home-delivering party again, then I think we will do brilliantly in the polls."
Mr Johnson also repeated his call for proceeds from property taxes to be handed over to metropolitan authorities in England's biggest cities to drive urban revival. And he said it was "inconceivable" that the fleet of Boris bikes will disappear from the streets of London following Barclays' announcement that it will no longer sponsor the cycle rental scheme.
Mr Johnson had a few reporters at the lunch scratching their heads when he named Rosie M Banks as the romantic novelist he most aspired to emulate . Ms Banks may not have troubled the shelves of bookstores in real life, but is a successful author within the Jeeves and Wooster novels of PG Wodehouse.