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19/10/2015 09:30 BST | Updated 19/10/2015 10:59 BST

Boris Johnson Claims People Should Not Be 'Embarrassed' If They Earn 'Titanic' Amounts Of Money

Boris Johnson has said that there's a "problem with the British psyche" and Brits need to become more comfortable about earning "titanic sums of money".

The Mayor of London, who earns £275,000 a year for his column in the Telegraph as well as £47,000 as Mayor and £67,000 as MP for Uxbridge, claimed we need to think more like Americans, who have "a lack of embarrassment" about earning vast amounts.

Speaking with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, he admitted that wealth inequality has "greatly increased" in London over the last few years, but insisted this was "not necessarily a bad thing" for entrepreneurship.

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Johnson joked that people were 'less likely to be murdered' in London than New York

The two mayors - who met several years ago in Blackpool at a Tory Party conference, and have been "friends ever since" according to Bloomberg - spoke together at the CityLab London conference about issues affecting both of their cities.

Johnson told Bloomberg he admired the US idea that it is 'ok' to fail in business, and joked: “I’m a conservative politician, I know all about failing. We keep failing until we get it right.”

He described the American practice of teaching schoolchildren to swear an oath of allegiance to the flag as "wonderful", saying he feels it is a "form of oppression" if people who have lived in London for decades can't speak English.

Recent figures showed that 19% of people in London are paid below the 'Living Wage' of £9.15 an hour, but Johnson said he didn't think the growing financial inequality in London was a threat to innovation in the city.

"No. No, I think innovation in this city is set there," he said.

"I think there is a question about great inequality of wealth and if you look at the vast earnings in London, between the FTSE 100 chief executives and the average pay of their employees, it has greatly increased in the last four years - there's no question about it.

"I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, as long as those employers pay their taxes and pay their people properly, and there's opportunity. There's got to be opportunity."

"The other thing I think they have in America which we don't have in Britain is, I think, a lack of embarrassment about accumulating simply titanic sums of money. And that's a great thing," he added.

"There's a sort of problem with the British psyche still."

Three-time New York Mayor Bloomberg jokingly addressed rumours that he would run to be Mayor of London, saying “I just think I don’t have the hair for it”.

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Asked about expectation that he could be Britain's next Prime Minister, Johnson said Bloomberg was "much more likely" to one day become US president.

“Who thinks Mike could win?” Johnson asked, to cheers, adding that he had more chance of "being blinded by a champagne cork or locked in a disused fridge" than becoming PM.

Being a mayor makes someone “very popular for a while”, Johnson said, but noted “at the moment everybody wants to see the colour of my insides”, referring to his involvement in the ongoing dispute between black cab drivers and the taxi app Uber.

Speaking about patriotism and the threat of Islamic extremism, Johnson told Bloomberg: " I think one of the wonderful things about America, and the reason it has this incredible success, e pluribus unum ['out of many, comes one' - the US motto] is because in your schools everyone pledges allegiance to the flag.

"There's a sense of wherever you come from, whatever your previous identity was, you have become American, you have become part of the strong, charismatic political identity.

"And I think we're getting there in this country, but there was a long period in the 70s and 80s when we kind of let all that go, and we had a multicultural agenda."

"The crucial thing for me is that everybody has to speak English," he said, when asked how he tries to ensure people from the Muslim community integrate into London.

"That's absolutely central to our identity and to our culture. From my point of view it's a form of oppression if people who live here for decades are actually unable to use English or participate in the economy.

"So that's the number one thing. I find that most people, actually, when they come here, desperately want to belong and to understand this country and its culture and its history. We shouldn't be shy about teaching that in our schools and pushing that up the agenda."

Bloomberg told the audience that New York allowed entrepreneurs to come to a busy place and "If you fail, it’s not a stigma, you can come back and do it again.”

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Johnson and Bloomberg compared their cities

"I think Mike's characterisation of the things that our cities have in common is absolutely right," said Boris. "I would point out that the crime rate is significantly lower in London, you're much less likely to be murdered. [Maybe because of New York's] gun control laws, on which mayor Bloomberg has strong views."

"Progress was born in New York," Bloomberg joked in response.

"But you were born in Boston, weren't you?" quipped Johnson.

Johnson also celebrated London's burgeoning tech scene, saying it was "absolutely nothing to do with me, though I claim credit for it repeatedly."

He said London, like New York, was a “magnet for talent” – but the challenge was making sure people born in both cities got involved with tech, which is why he said he was “trying to get coding right up the agenda in our schools.”

"People have got a sense that this incredible thing is happening on their doorstep, this bustling, giant atmosphere of people doing tech start-ups with nose-rings and fixed-wheel bicycles and all that, that they can be part of it, that there can be prosperity for them too."

“People talk about the rebalancing of the London economy… tech is spouting," Johnson said. "The vibe of London is possibly something which possibly thrives without politicians.”

He referred to a new digital project called 'Tech Map London' which shows where the cities tech businesses are based and how fast they are growing, saying that tech businesses were “sprouting up like dragons' teeth” around the city.

techmap london

Tech Map London

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