Cameron's chums – all in this together
Matt Chorley and Brian Brady identify the pals of the Prime Minister who are now enjoying jolly japes at the taxpayers' expense
Sunday 14 November 2010
Churchill: The Musical opened on the Algarve last month with surprisingly little fanfare. Even Cliff Richard described as "brave" the decision to immortalise the war-time leader in show tunes.
But the words of a British Prime Minister have been captured in saccharine verse before. David Cameron first uttered his oft-repeated slogan "we're all in this together" in the House of Commons in May 2005, a full year before it became a high-kicking Disney hit in High School Musical. "Together, together, together everyone," the cheerleading popsicles sang in the smash hit franchise, apparently taking their inspiration from Cameron. "Together, together, come on let's have some fun."
And what fun they are now having in Team No 10. In the tradition of the all-American high school drama, the old gang from Tory HQ have been got back together, and we are picking up the bill. From official photographers to brand gurus, the plan to cut the cost of Whitehall by a third has not got in the way of helping out some old chums. When the coalition boasted that 1.5 million jobs would be created over the next four years, no one thought they would all be in Downing Street.
In opposition, Cameron rightly proclaimed that his government would be different from Gordon Brown's. Brown co-opted an eminent surgeon, a Falklands War hero and a United Nations diplomat into his team. Cameron has taken on a personal photographer, a film-maker and a stylist, plus a handbag designer who happens to be a Tory donor and a friend of his wife.
Where Brown had Alan Sugar as his business tsar, Cameron has glamorous cobbler and Jimmy Choo boss Tamara Mellon, who was last week named as an (unpaid) trade ambassador. At least we were never subjected to a Daily Mail spread of the hirsute Apprentice star with just a pair of stilettos to cover his modesty.
The designer Anya Hindmarch, who once organised, in the words of Cameron, an "extremely stylish and enjoyable" Tory fundraiser, is another business ambassador. Also slipping into the back seat of the coalition limo is Sir Philip Green, the East End boy done good. Insisting no one need lose their civil service job because of his advice about how to save billions from public sector procurement, Sir Phil side-stepped claims that he avoided paying £285m in tax, which could have spared several thousand Sir Humphreys the sack.
The trio of tycoons are unpaid, but the kudos of power is still coveted by many. And history shows there are other ways to reward pals of the PM.
It can be revealed that around two dozen new peers will be named before the end of the month, possibly as early as Friday, in a move certain to reignite charges of cronyism. "Names keep going on the list and then get taken off," says a nervous spinner who predicts trouble ahead.
At least 16 ex-party workers have reportedly been employed on short-term civil service contracts, avoiding the need for the roles to be advertised. Before the election, Samantha Cameron was creative director of upmarket stationers Smythson, where a diary can cost more than £200. Now, the unofficial First Lady does not even have time to keep track of her own appointments, so Isabel Spearman, a former PR to Hindmarch, is earning £60,000 a year for a four-day week as a personal assistant and stylist.
Tory spin chief Andy Coulson earns £140,000 as a special adviser, but it seems a civil service secretary could not look after his needs. The IoS can reveal that Honor Fishburn, daughter of former Tory MP Dudley Fishburn, has moved seamlessly from Conservative Central Office into No 10 as a civil servant. Downing Street is at pains to point out that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, is happy that all those hired in civil service roles are not engaged in party political work.
But Labour's Hilary Benn criticised the appointments at a time of "cuts, the need for everyone to tighten their belts and the civil service recruitment freeze". A cynic could suggest that Labour might have performed better if Brown had had the nous to take on his own brand manager and photographer. From standing under a sign declaring "you can't polish a turd" at the Innocent smoothie HQ to the mis-microphoned fiasco of Gillian "bigoted" Duffy, having someone on hand to advise on media image could have at least rescued some dignity.
Brown was often trailed by state-funded snappers, but critics say the difference is that Andrew Parsons was once a Tory photographer, though scouring his candid, upright shots of the PM there is no obvious evidence of him leaning to the right when the shutter closes. In fact, the pictures reveal more about the PM than they might hope. Certainly, the only other people normally seen drinking a half-pint of Guinness are pregnant women. It is unclear whether he will join the Camerons on their next "staycation" to take the holiday snaps.
And for those moments when a still is not enough – whitewater rafting, maybe – ex-Webcameron staffer Nicky Woodhouse will be on hand with the official government video camera. She is joined by the creator of the "Pimp My Party" game, former Tory candidate Rishi Saha, expected to become the head of new media, and Anna-Maren Ashford, who moved from head of "brand communications" at Tory Towers to the Cabinet Office "nudge unit" on a tax-funded salary estimated at £50,000.
As Churchill himself almost remarked, never has so much been paid by so many taxpayers to so few old chums of the Prime Minister.
The equality quiz
You thought you lived in an egalitarian society, didn't you? One in which bright children of the wage-earning classes could haul themselves up by the sweat of their brows, the sharpness of their minds, and the quality of their university educations. Where strange Scottish spinsters could suddenly become chauffeured celebrities by dint of their talent.
Well, it turned out last week that these exceptions are the thinnest gloss on the timeless reality now made plain as David Cameron and his Conservative victors get into their stride. The Prime Minister – no stranger to privilege, he – surrounds himself and his wife with an entourage of factotums. A Country Life survey reveals that vast tracts of Britain 2010 remain in the hands of aristocrats who owe their possessions to the promiscuity or skulduggery of their pushy forebears. Bankers snort coke and derision as they scoop up their bonuses.
Equality, we must now see, is a cruel chimera. But, having seen it, are we ready for it? Are you a Tory toff? Or have you learnt nothing from the past six months, and are still – at heart – a horny-handed son or daughter of the soil? Take our simple test to find out.
1. Do you think stealing policemen's hats and breaking plate-glass windows is
a) A bit of high spirits after a pleasant club dinner
b) All-too-routine vandalism these days
c) Despicable civil disobedience upon which should be brought the full force of the law
2. You think someone who went to St Paul's School is
a) Very fortunate
b) A good chap
c) An oik
3. Your definition of an heirloom is
a) Grandad's gold watch and chain he got for 40 years at the gas board
b) That rather nice Victorian decanter set on your parents' sideboard
c) 345 prime acres in Wiltshire
4. Your father is known to you as
a) Merely one of three possibilities who were on the youth club's outing to Southend
5. You think social mobility is
a) Something old and fat people do on those scooters
b) The ability to rise up the social scale
c) Having Jenkins whisk you from the hunt ball to the Lord Lieutenant's reception
6. You think a ha-ha is
a) A laugh
b) Almost an anagram for a popular singing combo
c) A landscape feature on your estate, which you maintain with Parliamentary expenses.
1. a) 0, b) 0, c) 5. 2. a) 0, b) 0, c) 5. 3. a) 0, b) 0, c) 5. 4. a) 0, b) 0, c) 5. 5. a) 0, b) 0, c) 5. 6. a) 0, b) 0, c) 5.
How did you do?
Give yourself five points for each correct answer.
30 pts Congratulations! You are a true Tory toff, all too ready to stand on the workers' shoulders to claim your vaunted place at the trough.
5-25 Nice try, but you are obviously not the genuine article, but a bit of an arriviste. A bit of an Osborne, in fact. Shove off.
0-5 Fetch me my slippers, and be quick about it.
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