With Boris Johnson flouting coronavirus advice to stay at Chequers after his hospital stay, TIM WALKER reveals the prime minister is spoilt for choice for homes to stay in.
Although the official government advice makes it clear that ‘essential travel does not include visits to second homes’, Boris Johnson and his lover Carrie Symonds have both decamped from Downing Street to Chequers, the prime minister’s grace-and-favour mansion in the rolling Buckinghamshire countryside.
Mandrake can disclose that Johnson is now spoilt for choice when it comes to where to recuperate with four homes to choose from – in addition to Downing Street and Chequers, he and Symonds co-own a £1.3 million four-bedroom townhouse that they bought in Camberwell, south London, last summer. His divorce lawyers have now secured the £1,250,000 Oxfordshire farmhouse that he bought with his former wife Marina Wheeler in 2003.
Newly updated ownership records disclose that since the finalisation of his divorce, Johnson has become the sole owner of the beautiful rural idyll. The property – worth just £640,000 when Johnson and Wheeler acquired it – is one of two that they owned. Their Islington town house, bought for £2.3m in 2009, was sold late last year for £3.35m.
As great as Johnson’s fortune is, I will always remember how parsimonious he was during the 12 years I worked with him at the Daily Telegraph. Even though his salary of £270,000 a year was almost as much as the cost of the entire newsroom, I never once recall him buying a round of drinks.
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He does, of course, have substantial outgoings with an unquantifiable number of children to support, and now, on top of everything else, sole responsibility for the mortgage on the property in Oxfordshire.
Even in the face of a deadly pandemic, David Cameron’s sense of entitlement remains one of the wonders of the world. When I ask the former prime minister’s factotum Laurence Mann if publication of the paperback edition of his memoirs might have to be pushed back, the reaction is swift and emphatic. ‘The paperback edition of For the Record has not been postponed – it will be out later this year, as planned,’ Mann tells me. He adds it would be ‘completely false’ to suggest otherwise.
Assuming Cameron is right that coronavirus will not have the temerity to meddle with his schedule, the paperback edition will, I am told, be coming out with a new chapter, bringing it bang up to date. It’s unlikely to include a word of criticism of his fellow Old Etonian Boris Johnson. ‘He’s a very tough, very resilient and very fit person, with a tremendous zest for life,’ Cameron wrote on Twitter when the PM was hospitalised. ‘We all want you safe, well and back in Downing Street.’
Whoever the miscreant is who keeps leaking stories about Michael Gove to the Sunday Times’ political editor Tim Shipman has defiantly struck again. On Sunday, Shipman disclosed that Gove had been given the important task of chairing discussions on the long-term options in relation to coronavirus. There was even another leak from a cabinet meeting in which Gove was said to have told his old rival Matt Hancock that he was now siding with the chancellor Rishi Sunak against him. ‘We need to run this hot,’ Gove said. Hancock replied: ‘I don’t agree.’
‘Run this hot’ means Gove wants people to go back to work while the virus remains deadly, a strategy that will in the short term probably be popular with people bored with the lockdown. Longer term, not so much.
The giddy social whirl that I see unfolding each day on the pages of my diary contrasts with the unutterable boredom of my actual lockdown life. On Sunday, I was due to celebrate Gina Miller’s birthday with her. In addition to being a lot of fun to be around, and the victor in two court cases against the governments of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, she can now also lay claim to being a prophet.
Last summer Gina urged Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson not to accede to Boris Johnson’s demand for a general election. ‘That would give him his chance to turn the UK into a laboratory for experimenting with the most extreme right-wing ideology we’ve ever seen,’ she wrote. If only the dunderheads had listened.