Boris Johnson loves a catchphrase – Build Build Build, Get Brexit Done, Make Britain Great Again – but his go-to phrase in coronavirus lockdown was never quite delivered with the same relish.
Does Johnson, educated at Eton and Oxford, gifted his first job in journalism at The Times, truly believe that “we’re all in this together”?
“The modern British male is useless” Johnson wrote in his days as a journalist. “If he is blue collar, he is likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless, and perhaps claiming to suffer from low self-esteem brought on by unemployment.”
If only the “modern British male” had been blue-blooded, like Johnson. BoJo was elected president of the Oxford Student Union on the back of support from a certain Michael Gove (who succeeded him in the role) and was a member of the Bullingdon Club alongside David Cameron. In the Johnson-Cameron era the drinking club reputedly hired prostitutes to perform sex acts on them during meals, referred to “certain types of people” as plebs and wantonly vandalised property.
Drunk, criminal…Johnson’s critics might argue that he saved “aimless, feckless and hopeless” for his handling of the coronavirus crisis!
This article will argue that Johnson the PM has done what he was always going to do: run government like the old boy’s network he’s been enmeshed in since he was born. Brace yourself for a look at Johnson’s role in what we call the Matrix…
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born on June the 19th 1964. His father, Stanley, counts among his immediate ancestors one of the last interior ministers of the Ottoman Empire and members of the German nobility. His mother, Charlotte Fawcett, was the daughter of barrister Sir James Edmund Sandford Fawcett, president of the European Commission for Human Rights from 1972 to 1981 (ironically, given that the Tories have recently made noises about repealing the Human Rights Act!).
Charlotte and Stanley both studied at Oxford. Indeed, it’s where they met.
Johnson followed his parents into elite education by attending Eton, a school which has provided no less than 20 British Prime Ministers (more, we calculate, than all state schools combined). His best friends at the school were Darius Guppy and Charles Spencer.
Guppy achieved notoriety in 1993 when, according to The Independent, “he was jailed for an insurance fraud committed several years earlier… He and an associate paid someone to tie them up and fake a robbery in New York, so that he could claim £1.8m in insurance.”
When Guppy learned that a News of the World journalist called Stuart Collier had been asking questions Guppy called…Boris Johnson. Guppy wanted Collier’s address so that he could hire some thugs to “get (Collier) scared…I want him to realise that he’s fucked someone off”. Johnson, then a journalist himself, agreed to supply Guppy with Collier’s address after a chilling debate in which he asked “how badly are you going to hurt this guy?” and they discussed the fine details of whether bones would be broken or not![i]
Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl Spencer (styled Viscount Althorp between 1975 and 1992), is the younger brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the maternal uncle of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Spencer worked as a correspondent with NBC News from 1986 to 1995 and has also written feature stories for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph.
Guppy, remarkably, has also written for some of the most well-known press outlets in the UK: The Spectator, The Independent, The Sunday Telegraph and the New Statesman.
What an uplifting tale of egalitarian Britain! Three friends from an elite private school who ALL somehow ended up with pieces published in the most prestigious newspapers in the British free press…
Johnson the Journalist
It was Johnson who made the biggest mark in journalism of the trio. Despite questions over his competence while president of the Oxford Union and the fact that he was personally disappointed with the level of his degree (all reported by Sonia Purnell, his biographer) – Johnson obtained a job at The Times after graduating.
According to The Guardian Johnson landed this “plum job in journalism, assisted by formidable family connections, including his godmother, the writer Rachel Billington (daughter of Lord Longford and sister of Lady Antonia Fraser)”. The graduate’s commitment and nous certainly can’t explain his rise; Johnson was sacked by the paper after fabricating a quote which he attributed to his godfather Sir Colin Lucas, another Oxford graduate and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, former Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and a Chair of the Board of the British Library!
Earning dismissal from your first job because of blatant deception would be an impediment to most people’s careers. Not Johnson. He walked from one plum journalism job to another. Then-editor of The Daily Telegraph Sir Max Hastings (who we almost despair to add…graduated from Oxford) had met Johnson while giving a talk at the Oxford Union and hired him to work on the leader-writing desk of The Telegraph.
Johnson fared better at The Telegraph than The Times and was assigned to Brussels to report on European affairs, a decision that increasingly looks like the moment the seeds of Brexit were sown (no comment offered on any other seeds sown by Johnson in Brussels…). The New Statesman didn’t have trouble finding peers happy to criticise the integrity of Johnson-the-journalist during his time in Brussels:
“As a journalist in Brussels, (Johnson) was one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism” said Chris Patten, former MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party and now Chancellor of the University of Oxford.
“One of the reasons we’re leaving the EU is the media’s insidious drip, drip, drip of anti-EU propaganda over 25 years, which people ended up believing and for which Boris Johnson helped set the tone” said Charles Grant, the Cambridge-educated, former journalist (The Economist) who is now director of the Centre for European Studies Reform.
It should be noted that Johnson’s siblings share his
connections talent for journalism. Rachel Johnson graduated from Oxford then joined the Financial Times as their first ever female graduate trainee (a distinction surely awarded irrelevant of background) then moved to the BBC in 1994. She has written for The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Telegraph, The Evening Standard, The Spectator and The Mail on Sunday.
Did we miss any right-of-centre papers there?
Boris’s brother Jo began his career as an investment banker at Deutsche Bank then switched to media work in 1997. JoJo (well…if his brother is BoJo!) worked for the Financial Times in several roles – Paris correspondent (2001–05), South Asia bureau chief (2005–08) – and eventually rose to the position of associate editor. Little brothers always look up to their big brothers, of course, and Jo ultimately joined his brother in sampling all three points of the Matrix triad – business, media, politics – by becoming a Conservative MP in 2009.
Jo was reputedly encouraged to enter politics by his friend George Osborne, another triad expert as a millionaire, ex-Chancellor and Evening Standard editor (though some would say a pentangle may be more appropriate given his role in Austerity…). Jo Johnson and Osborne were members of the Bullingdon Club (remember that?) during their student days. Other club members at the time included Harry Mount, second cousin of David Cameron and a contributor to The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, and Nat Rothschild, who stands to inherit up to £40 billion according to The Observer.
Jo Johnson is married to Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman, who was educated at, you guessed it, Oxford.
Rachel Johnson is married to Ivo Dawnay, a descendant of William Dawnay, 7th Viscount Downe.
Are you getting tired yet? Ready to fall back into the dream world in which democracy and meritocracy exist?
Keep your eyes open a little longer…there’s more to see.
Johnson’s connections with the media inevitably overspill into his political career. He appears to have broken Foreign Secretary protocol by heading abroad without a security detail in 2018 to attend a party held by Evgeny Lebedev at a castle near Perugia (having attended a previous party there in 2016).
Lebedev, with an estimated net worth of $300 million, is the owner of the Evening Standard, The Independent and the TV channel London Live and was in the headlines at the time of Johnson’s 2018 visit, “having sold a 30% holding in his newspapers to an investor with strong links to Saudi Arabia.” The competition and media regulator investigated the sale (in which a frontman bought the stake in a number of “unconventional, complex, and clandestine” deals) but ultimately nothing was done.
The Independent (perhaps that should be The “Independent”) is, therefore, owned by a Russian billionaire and the Saudi state!
Johnson also hit the headlines for his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri, whose business Innotech was awarded significant grants from government and mayoral funds while Johnson was London Mayor. Arcuri attended three trade missions in the company of Mayor Johnson and on four occasions he spoke at events she hosted. Strangely, none of this was declared on Johnson’s Register of Mayor’s Interests, despite the fact a mainstream newspaper reported regular visits from Johnson to Arcuri’s flat and the sums of money involved were up to £100,000.
Johnson’s record in government suggests he has a very loose definition of “conflicts of interest”. The Commons Committee on Standards rebuked him for having “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house”, while his housing minister Robert Jenrick has been hit by a string of “cash for favours” revelations that would have brought down ministers in any other government. Our article covered the original story of Jenrick saving property developer Richard Desmond £40 million by waiving rules that would have seen this money paid to the local council (“Marxists” as Desmond called them).
Some newspapers didn’t cover this: The Star, Express and Mirror. According to Private Eye, all three papers, which Desmond used to own outright (and still has a stake in), couldn’t see the “merit” in the story…
Jenrick, meanwhile, continues to enjoy the “full confidence” of Boris Johnson, while another cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi couldn’t see what the fuss was about. Other voters should pay to attend a Tory fundraiser like Richard Desmond, he said!
Therein lies the rub. The Conservatives have tried to block publication of pictures showing Boris Johnson in the company of Richard Desmond, but this must read article from Open Democracy exposes exactly how billionaires like Desmond access privileges the public could never dream of. The Leader’s Dining Club, in which wealthy individuals pay £50,000 a year to “receive regular private dinners, lunches and drinks receptions with the prime minister and other senior Tory figures”, is a money-spinner for the Conservatives and Johnson has attended at least six meetings since 2016.
Sixty Leader’s Group donors are collectively worth at least £45.7 billion and give Johnson’s party funding power their political opponents simply cannot rival. According to Open Democracy 80% of funds raised by the Conservatives in the early weeks of the general election came from members of the Leader’s Group. “In the first week of the 2019 general election,” OD state, “the Tories raised more than £5.6 million in large donations. Labour took in under £220,000 over the same period.”
One of the Leader’s Group members, Anthony Bamford, the Chairman of JCB, has given “£5 million to the Conservatives since 2010.”
Bamford also donates funds through the “legitimate” and “transparent” means of current parliamentary rules. We encourage you to spend some time (and it will take some time!) to look through the list of donors to Johnson on The Parliamentary Register of Member’s Financial Interests. Notable donors to the incumbent PM include:
Bamford: Chairman of JCB, estimated net worth $4.2 billion. Gave Johnson £20,000 on 14th June 2019, £20,000 on 15th July 2019 and £20,000 on 15th August 2019 (did he set up a standing order!?).
Rosemary Said: wife of Wafic Saïd, the Syrian businessman who has a net worth of £1.5 billion and “helped broker the UK’s biggest arms sale – the Al-Yamamah deal (with Saudi Arabia) – signed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1985”[ii]. Gave Johnson £10,000 on 25th June, 2019.
Peter Cruddas: named by the 2007 Sunday Times Rich List as the richest man in the City of London, current estimated net worth of $1.3 billion. Gave Johnson £50,000 on 6th June 2019.
The register also highlights the strong connection Johnson retains to The Telegraph: “From 11 July 2018 until 10 July 2019, articles for the Telegraph Media Group Ltd, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT, for which I received £22,916.66 a month. Hours: 10 hrs a month.” We work that out as almost £2,300 an hour for Johnson the journalist. Not a bad rate!
Boris Johnson delivered The Third Margaret Thatcher Lecture in 2013. Readers will be unsurprised to learn that he described humans as “very far from equal in raw ability…I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”
These are textbook views of the elite. They justify their privilege by linking it to raw ability – yet it wasn’t ability that took Johnson to The Times or Telegraph – and praise inequality as necessary, even desirable – easy to say when you’ve always been on the rich side of the unequal divide!
Wherever Johnson looks in the spheres of power – politics, the media, or business – he sees fellow Oxbridge graduates, Bullingdon Club members, millionaires/billionaires. These figures seem to move from one sphere to the next with ease – like George Osborne or Jo Johnson – and to have such easy access to publication in prestigious papers like The Times and Telegraph it’s laughable.
The public are well aware that Johnson comes from privilege – part of his charm is the persona of “the jocular aristocrat” – but are they aware of the supporting network of wealth and power which surrounds him, the virtual caste system of elite control of the press and politics that is aided and abetted by funding from the business community? Surprisingly, given that the mass media are part of the very same system, they are not.
It’s up to us to spread the word. Share this article as many times as you like, as widely as you like.
Truth is more powerful than any slogan.