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Buyer’s remorse over the Daily Mail’s new hire, Boris Johnson

The latest scandals and gossip from Westminster and Fleet Street

Boris Johnson got stuck on a zip-line during BT London Live in Victoria Park back in 2012. Photo: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

After agreeing to pay Boris Johnson a reputed £1m a year for a weekly column, there’s an understandable feeling of buyer’s remorse among Daily Mail executives. “The mistake we made was in giving Johnson the right to choose his subject,” one whispers, ruefully. “His inaugural column made an embarrassing nonsense of how we’d built him up as a columnist who would be ‘required reading in Westminster and across the world’. He ended up giving dietary advice.”

It is too early to say if Johnson will attract or repel readers, but it’s fair to say the comments beneath the MailOnline version of his column have been mixed. “This man is just unbelievable, absolutely no shame, but, hey, he’s made his millions I guess,” wrote one reader. Another commented: “Luckily the cost of living crisis has helped me eat less therefore I am losing weight. Thank you, government.”

In his pre-Downing Street days, Johnson had written for the Daily Telegraph – on what he had called a “chicken feed” salary of just £275,000 a year – but was always required to talk through his column with the comment desk ahead of filing it, and, if they objected to the subject matter, to come up with something that was acceptable.

Paul Dacre, the Mail’s editor-in-chief, is believed to have been in discussions with Johnson about writing for his flagship title for some time. When they had begun, it had looked as if a peerage for Dacre would have been in Johnson’s gift so the 74-year-old newspaperman must be feeling especially aggrieved at how things have worked out.

As editor of the Mail, Dacre was certainly all too well aware of how an inaugural column set the tone for what followed. He had made it clear to Richard Kay, when he appointed him as Nigel Dempster’s short-lived successor as diarist, he wanted a major scoop to lead his first column. Kay obliged with a “world exclusive” that said Prince Andrew was going to marry the businesswoman Amanda Staveley.

Adds my source: “Morale among rank-and-file journalists at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday is not high, and, with money supposedly tight because of declining print sale and rising paper and energy costs, redundancies are ongoing. Johnson’s salary has gone down here like a bucket of cold sick.”

Although GB News presenters have been trumpeting their channel as “a genuine challenger” to their bigger and more established rivals – “right across the board, we’re smashing it,” one boasted – its survival, two years on, comes down to the deep pockets of its backers. Parent firm All Perspectives ran up losses last year of £30.6m on GB News with just £3.6m worth of income.

Its one-time star presenter Andrew Neil has, meanwhile, severed all his ties with the outfit after quitting in 2021. He has offloaded his shares in GB News – they cost him a paltry £624 – along with other shares owned by Neil’s company Glenburn Enterprises worth £10.2m.

Neil’s company has retained £4.3m in accumulated earnings, within which it holds £1.3m worth of investment property. Neil set his business up way back in 1990, describing its line of work as “artistic creation.”

What with all the lockdown high jinks at Tory headquarters, this may not be the moment for Rishi Sunak to boast about how he has just been made an “honorary member” of the Carlton Club, his party’s favourite watering hole and party venue. That’s worth £2,595 a year and it’s more than the club ever chose to give his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, but less than Theresa May, Liam Fox and Gavin Williamson, who were all granted life memberships.

Intriguingly, meanwhile, Sunak has deleted the name of Akhil Tripathi – a character his aides declined to talk about – from his official register of interests and substituted an outfit called Balderton Medical Consultants who stumped up £38,500 to pay for Sunak and his team to travel to “multiple Conservative Party events,” which amounted to half its profits for 2022. This company also donated £50,000 to the party in November. One to keep an eye on.

Rupert Murdoch may be 92, but he still has the wit to see that Sir Keir Starmer – with his intention to abolish the kind of non-dom tax status the American citizen enjoys – will cost him a fortune. The old man despairs at the way his fellow non-dom Lord Rothermere is allowing his Mail titles to champion not the Conservative Party, but its disgraced former MP Boris Johnson – thereby stoking division for Rishi Sunak – and sees how the Telegraph and the Express are, as usual, aping the Mail.

“Word has come down from on high to get behind Sunak in a big way,” says my man in the News Group citadel. “Murdoch has met Sunak frequently and there is a strong bond between them, quite possibly because he’s the first prime minister whose family fortune, like his own, is well over the one billion pound mark.”

The differences between the Rothermere and Murdoch titles were stark over the weekend. The Mail on Sunday led on “Proof Boris accuser did go to party in lockdown,” as the Sun ran an enthusiastic interview with Sunak in which he was quoted pointedly saying he hadn’t got time for the Johnson “psychodrama.”

Murdoch has often lamented how Jonathan Rothermere hasn’t the political acumen – or ability to assert himself – that his late father Vere had.

Mark Thompson, arguably the most successful director general of the BBC in recent decades, has finally been awarded a knighthood, 11 years after stepping down from the post. Historically all former DGs get a knighthood unless they have been sacked like Greg Dyke or Alasdair Milne.

My source on the Arts and Media committee tells me that Thomson’s gong was vetoed for years by the chair of the honours committee, Rupert Gavin. Some have speculated that it was because Gavin never forgave Thompson for sacking him as CEO of BBC Worldwide.

Now, with Gavin having last year retired from the Honours  Committee, Thompson has finally got his just reward. Ironically, Gavin himself also picked up a knighthood in the King’s birthday honours. It may well be diplomatic for them not to be invited to receive them at Buckingham Palace on the same day.

Mandrake was sorry to hear of the death of Glenda Jackson at the age of 87. The actress-turned-Labour MP was passionate about her politics, but never took herself too seriously.

As I recount in my book Star Turns, her parents had originally intended to call her Shirley, after the cherubic child star Shirley Temple. “The moment they looked at their baby – red-faced and shrieking furiously – they realised they had produced instead a Glenda,” she wryly recalled.

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