Hey, Boris Johnson: We Asked a Homeless Man, Some Travellers, an Immigrant and an Ex-Gang Member if They Feel Sorry for the Mega-Rich

We tried to ask a disgraced MP too but the only people who'd speak to us were UKIP.

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21 November 2013, 8:00am

Boris Johnson after ringing the NASDAQ opening bell in 2009. (Photo via

If there's one group of people we all need to ease up on a little, it's the super rich. I mean, how do you think it felt for London's fund managers, conglomerate heirs and yachting magnates to be driven past the Occupy site on their way to work every morning, their chauffeurs forced to turn up the radio to drown out the cries to decapitate the one percent? Awful, is how.

Yes, they might be the walking embodiment of greed and wealth inequality, but how – for example – would the taxidermy industry survive if they were to disappear? Who would be dismissive of their children and condescending to sommeliers? How would the Conran Shop turn a profit if there was no one around to spend the equivalent of six months' Jobseekers on Japanese knife sets? 

Thankfully, Boris Johnson has taken it upon himself to defend Britain's most persecuted section of society. The London mayor, proficient in becoming a news story for saying, doing and writing very stupid things, made the headlines again this week for a piece he wrote for the Telegraph. In it, he said the "very, very rich" were a "put-upon minority" who he needs to stick up for just as much as London's other "put-upon" minorities, "from the homeless to Irish travellers to ex-gang members to disgraced former MPs". 

We wanted to know how Boris' other put-upon minorities felt about being lumped in with the super wealthy, so we asked a few of them for their thoughts. 

THE HOMELESS

VICE: Do you feel sorry for the mega rich? Do you think they deserve our sympathy?
Viktor: Do I think rich people deserve as much sympathy as homeless people? No, because rich people are quite greedy. Rich people don’t give you money like normal working people do. Someone rich – very rich – will be walking here and not give me anything. But someone walking behind him – an average working person – would give me £3 or £4.

So you don't think we should fawn over the rich more?
You mean being nice to the rich? Yes, I think we should be nice to everyone, always. But they are not nice. They are closed in on themselves. They don’t see the rest of the world. As rich as someone is, they are still greedy.


IRISH TRAVELLERS

An Irish traveller at Dale Farm (Photo by Grant Armour)

VICE: Hi Matthew. Do you think the super rich are a "put-upon minority"?
Mathew Brindley from the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain: Our response, as an organisation that works with Gypsies and Travellers on a wide range of issues, would be that [Johnson's statement is] quite ironic, especially in the context of the mayor’s planning policy. When the mayor was drafting his regional special development strategy, which was called The London Plan, he refused to consider accommodation provision for Gypsies and Travellers. 

That's weird. He'll relax rules around affordable housing so property developers can make more money, but not pay attention to Gypsies and Travellers. It seems like he's favouring certain put-upon minorities over others here.   
While he continued to approach housing for everybody as a strategic issue for everybody, he said that Traveller sites at the local level are often problematic due to objections as a result of the discrimination these communities face. We approached the mayor with this issue and he refused to acknowledge that Traveller sites should be in line with normal housing – and a strategic issue for London.

Thanks, Matthew.


EX-GANG MEMBERS

Sheldon Thomas, ex-gang member and founder of Gangs Line, an organisation aiming to combat gang culture and help young people involved in gangs 

VICE: So, Sheldon, we should all sympathise with the super rich a little more, right?  
Sheldon Thomas: Come on – that’s ridiculous. Only a person, like Boris, who has no clue about everyday life, would make a comment like that. Anyone who says we need to feel sorry for rich people needs to get their head tested. If you’re going to feel sorry for a rich person, what about the person on a deprived estate where drug dealers hang out, where prostitutes live, where people have a low expectation of life itself? What should be said for them?

What do you think the hardest thing about being rich must be?
The hardest thing about being rich is giving it up and choosing to help others. Plenty of rich people are greedy, it's how they work. They work by how money will serve them.

And what do you think of the idea that the rich are a "put-upon minority"?
I don’t believe rich people get shit. I think rich people are in their own world, and their world doesn’t collide with our world. As long as you have the Conservative Party supporting the rich people, their world will remain separate. Any rich person who feels put-upon is talking absolute nonsense. Rich people are put-upon by themselves through their own unhappiness. No working-class person puts rich people under pressure.

Unfortunately, Boris' fourth "put-upon minority" – disgraced MPs – weren't that forthcoming when it came to being identified as "disgraced MPs". We tried contacting a number of current and former MPs who were embroiled in the expenses scandal, had said something racist once or had head-butted other MPs in the Commons bar, but weirdly, none were up for talking.

The closest we got – after trying to contact cash-for-questions poster boy and new electoral strategist for UKIP, Neil Hamilton – was a statement from UKIP Spokesman Tim Aker. It read: “We feel appreciative that the top one percent pay for 30 percent of the income tax take, allowing the government to employ essential front line public servants. This perspective should filter through into the debates on levels of taxation. UKIP would love for there to be more rich people in this country to ease the tax burden on the lowest paid."

But that didn't really answer our question whatsoever, so instead we spoke someone from a minority that's been put-upon considerably by the current government: immigrants!         


IMMIGRANTS

Malik, a Pakistani immigrant who's owned a garage in Hackney for 12 years

VICE: Hi, Malik. Do you agree with Boris Johnson that we should let up on the super rich a little?
Malik: I’m living in East London. Boris built Westfield, but he has to look after the old areas. He must look after these areas because, you know, some things, like cleaning, footpaths and road maintenance, don't get enough attention.

Wait, so you don't feel sorry for rich people?
You know this government is made of rich people? There are no poor people in [the Conservative] Party – they’re all rich. I’m poor, yeah, so I know how much oil is, how much rice is. Say I get £300, I know how much goes to food, council tax, bills. But the rich don’t know any of that – they just go and buy whatever they want. This is hard times. I’ve been living on this road the last 12 years. I’m happy because I’m a Londoner – I’m proud of things like the Olympics. But it’s hard times.

Okay. Finally, there are clearly lots of hardships that come with being super rich, but what do you think the hardest thing would be?
If I was super rich I’d have to remember where I came from. I have to look after my community, the people at the bottom. The whole [Conservative] Party is rich, so they should have to look after these people from the bottom. Rich people have to look after poor people. Nobody is rich straight away. When they get to the top, they have to remember what the bottom looks like. 

Thanks, Malik.

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