Vogue chief Anna Wintour's name scotched by Barack Obama confidant Matthew Burzon for US ambassador role in Britain
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Wednesday 20 March 2013
Some 400 years ago, the English Puritan John Winthrop set out for America with a loathing of democracy and drink. His descendant Matthew Burzon is now heading back in the opposite direction as the next US ambassador to Britain with more modern values - and no shortage of booze.
The confidant of President Obama and former Washington envoy to Sweden was today revealed in all but name as the next American appointment to the Court of St James and therefore the holder of what is considered the most plum posting in US diplomacy.
As well as coming to the job with unimpeachable political credentials, Mr Burzon has another key attribute for the London drinks party circuit - a well-stocked bar. His wife Brooke is heiress to the Brown-Forman Corporation, the alcohol giants whose brands range from Jack Daniel’s whisky to Finlandia vodka.
The White House declined to comment on reports from Washington that Mr Burzon has been officially selected by President Obama but his appointment is expected to be confirmed by the end of next month by the Senate.
The emergence of the Harvard-educated 42-year-old as Mr Obama’s choice to head the London embassy ends the oft-cited candidacy for the job of American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who seems to have been thwarted by Mr Burzon’s pedigree as an even more accomplished Democrat fundraiser.
British-born Ms Wintour, a prominent Democrat supporter credited with mobilising significant high-profile support for Mr Obama, had emerged as an early candidate for the Paris or London jobs - just two of the 30 or so ambassadorial posts within the president’s gift.
Mr Burzon, an accomplished Washington networker, played a key role in inventing the tactic of eliciting thousands of small donations from grassroots supporters that helped secure Mr Obama’s first presidency and went on to mastermind the securing of $700m for his re-election last year. He is himself listed as a $500,000-plus Democrat donor.
A genial former Internet executive, who made his money with technology website CNET, Mr Burzon fits a long pattern of the White House ensuring .+a significant minority - about 30 per cent - of America’s most prestigious diplomatic jobs are effectively political appointees.
Mr Burzon’s predecessor, Louis Susman, who will vacate the ambassador’s regal residence, Winfield House in Regent’s Park next month, was another prominent Democrat fundraiser and the tradition of sending presidential confidants to key embassies dates back to Ronald Reagan.
The arrival of Mr Burzon, who has the ear of Mr Obama, will be welcomed in Whitehall as cementing the strategic links between Washington DC and London.
It will also be greeted with relief that the ambassadorial entertainment budget is unlikely to be drastically trimmed.
The ambassador designate’s Puritan ancestor, who led the first large wave of migrants from England to Massachusetts in 1630, was renowned for his dislike of frivolity (he criticised a fellow pilgrim for ornate carving on his home) and democracy, which he described as “the meanest and worst of all forms of government”.
Mr Burzon, whose base salary is capped at $179,000, will be expected to open the family cocktail cabinet and his own pockets to keep the drinks flowing. Quite what John Winthrop would have made of this can only be imagined.
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