TORY CONFERENCE: Boris back Jamie Oliver's work ethic claims
Action is needed to instil the work ethic in young British workers who are unwilling to do jobs which they see as “menial”, London mayor Boris Johnson has said.
Mr Johnson backed comments from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who complained that British youths would not work as hard or as long as the Eastern European migrants who staff some of his restaurants.
One of Mr Oliver's restaurants, Fifteen Cornwall, operates at Watergate Bay, near Newquay.
Speaking to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the mayor said the Government needed to tackle the problems of welfare dependency, educational under-achievement and low self-esteem which hold some young Britons back from fulfilling their “vast and latent” potential.
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His comments came as Prime Minister David Cameron signalled that Mr Johnson could return to Parliament as an MP before his term as London mayor ends in 2016. But aides to the mayor scotched suggestions that he would seek to do so by putting himself forward as 2015 election candidate for the safe Tory seat of Croydon South – which is within the capital and being vacated by veteran MP Richard Ottaway.
Mr Cameron confirmed he had held discussions with the mayor on a possible return to Parliament, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “My message to him is ‘You’re a brilliant Mayor of London, you’ve done a great job, you’ve got a lot more to give to public life, and it would be great to have you back in the House of Commons at some stage, contributing to public life’. But that’s up to him, but I’ll certainly be giving him a warm welcome.”
Asked if Mr Cameron could see his former Eton schoolmate make a comeback at the next general election in 2015, he replied: “Absolutely – but that’s a matter for him. I think he needs to think about – it’s his plan. All I know that he’s a massive asset to the country, a massive asset to the Conservative Party. We could make a very strong team together, we do today.”
Also quizzed on whether there was a potential job for Mr Johnson within the party, Mr Cameron said: “I think he’s got an enormous amount go give to public life, and I don’t think he’s given up on that idea either. So I think we’re quite well aligned if I can put it that way.”
Mr Johnson acknowledged that he might get into trouble by telling the Tory conference that Oliver “had a point” when he suggested that British youths were “wet behind the ears” compared to their eastern European counterparts and were unwilling to put in the long hours needed to make a success of jobs in his restaurants.
Detailing the chef’s complaints, Mr Johnson told Tory activists: “Now I can see looks of apoplexy here... and I can see looks of sad acknowledgement as well and I can see a vague depressed look of recognition.
“I know and you know that there are millions of British kids and young people who are as dynamic and go-getting as any millionaire masterchef.
“But my question to you is what if Jamie has a point? What if he has half a point or even a quarter of a point? Do you think he does? He is onto something, he may have phrased it in a provocative way but he was saying something that I think resonates, right?
“If he has a point, we need to think about the possible origins of that difference in motivation that he claims to detect. We need to consider what we politicians are doing about it, don’t we?”
Mr Johnson said that the problem of lack of motivation to work was being tackled by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s efforts to reform the welfare system and Education Secretary Michael Gove’s drive to restore “rigour and realism” in schools.
And he added: “If, as I’m sure we all think and I certainly think, the problem is also to do with the confidence and self-esteem of young people, without which ambition is impossible, then isn’t it our job to do everything we can to provide boundaries and solidity to their lives?
“You have to tackle that complex of problems – crime, welfarism, educational underachievement – to make sure that kids growing up in London are able to take the opportunities that our city offers.
“And at the same time we must make sure that they don’t dismiss some jobs as ‘menial’ – which is a word I sometimes hear – and that they see them, those jobs that London creates in such abundance, in the same way that as Jamie Oliver’s east Europeans see them: as stepping-stones, as a beginning to a life in work that can take them anywhere.
“Now I’m conscious that I’m speaking very frankly about this issue, and probably got myself into trouble. Because I think there is vast and latent genius in these young people; and that if we could harness their talents more effectively they would not only have fulfilling lives, but we could drive ever faster the flywheel of the London economy that is now the most diverse in Europe.”
Over the weekend, the mayor sparked renewed speculation about his leadership ambitions by saying in interviews that the Syria debate had fuelled a desire to be back in the House of Commons.
He repeatedly declined on BBC2’s Newsnight to rule out the possibility of serving as a MP at the same time as completing his term as mayor.
Speculation that he might throw his hat into the ring to replace Mr Ottaway, with a shortlist of candidates due to be drawn up next week, were fuelled after he plugged the town in a rally speech last night.
But a spokesman for the Mayor told the Press Association that he was not putting his name forward for the seat.