Boris Johnson’s old leadership rival could make another bid for Number 10, writes TIM WALKER.
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Notwithstanding the fact he was last year the highest-earning MP in the Commons – raking in £800,000 above his basic salary – Boris Johnson has never been known for his philanthropy.
Jeremy Hunt, who is now being spoken about as a potential challenger for Johnson’s job, has in this respect established a clear point of difference. In the latest register of members’ interests, Hunt has disclosed he has given all of his recent earnings – totalling £36,000 – to good causes. These include two tranches of fees of £16,000 each from venture capitalists Fiera Capital and BGF for speaking engagements and £10,000 from Greenbrook Communications for taking part in a panel event.
Johnson may well rue the day he decided not to give Hunt – his rival for the party leadership last year – a cabinet job. The very fact Hunt has had nothing to do with the catalogue of blunders in recent months has added greatly to his lustre as a potential challenger for the Tory crown.
‘A lot of us are getting abuse from constituents at the moment – not least in some of the former Labour strongholds in the north – and what we’re seeing is referred pain,’ one of Johnson’s backbenchers tells me. ‘It’s pretty clear to everyone Hunt hasn’t given up on his ambitions for the top job and all I’d say is watch this space.’
Unlike Johnson, Hunt has enjoyed considerable success as an entrepreneur and is widely respected in the business community. He made millions from the sale of his Hotcourses company, while his property business Mare Pond, which he co-owns with his wife Lucia is also doing rather well – reporting £3.7m worth of fixed assets in new accounts. Hunt was forced to make an apology over this firm for failing to declare his interest in it to authorities in a timely manner after using it to buy seven apartments off plan in Southampton.
The gentrified tree-lined street in Islington, north London, where Dominic Cummings lives – much to the chagrin of some of his neighbours who heckled him for breaking the lockdown rules – was once home to the Lib Dem peer Baroness Hussein-Ece.
When her Turkish Cypriot parents made their home here in the 1950s, they rented a flat in the street, when, she says, it was a working class neighbourhood. ‘They were mostly multiple occupied houses then and the front doors were always open and the children played in the street,’ she recalls. Wealthy media types such as Cummings and his journalist wife Mary Wakefield have helped to turn the street into an elitist conclave. ‘I see it sometimes reported homes in that street are worth around the £1 million mark, but that’s nonsense,’ says Hussein-Ece. ‘The vast house that the Cummings family lives in is worth at least twice that. They’ve long since priced most of the kind of people who lived there when I was growing up out of the market.’
Until last year, Johnson shared a Georgian townhouse with his former wife Marina Wheeler not far from the Cummings residence. That was sold for around £3.75m. After Johnson was made foreign secretary and relocated to his official residence No 1 Carlton Gardens, he made a pretty penny renting it out.
The christening of Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’ baby Wilfred has inevitably been put on hold because of the coronavirus crisis, but I gather the couple are keen to get it done as soon as it’s legal and practicable. A family friend tells me that Zac – now Lord – Goldsmith, for whom Symonds once worked and remains on good terms with, is expected to be a godfather to little Wilfred. No doubt he’ll be generous.
Mandrake wishes Boris Johnson and his fellow Brextremists, who were falling over themselves to pay tribute to Dame Vera Lynnlast week, had heeded what she had to say. I well remember her telling me that people who actually fought in the Second World War seldom, if ever, wanted to glorify it. ‘At the reunions I go to, it’s mostly about remembering the fallen,’ she said. ‘Only those who weren’t there could ever have wanted to glorify it.’