Just 48 hours after Boris Johnson rallied his supporters at an event that looked like the start of a comeback tour, we learn that a multi-millionaire pro-Brexit donor has handed the former PM £1m to fund his office.
If ever there was evidence to support the claims that Mr Johnson and his adoring fans are plotting a comeback to – as they see it – to save the Conservative Party from a crushing election defeat under Rishi Sunak, this is it.
The latest updates to the Register of MPs’ financial interests, slipped out several hours after Parliament adjourned for the weekend, reveal that The Office of Boris Johnson Ltd trousered the cash from Christopher Harborne on 21 November and he registered it on 16 December.
On top of that massive donation – which is hardly to support Mr Johnson plodding away on the Tory backbenches asking worthy questions to ministers about his local hospital and police station in Uxbridge – he’s revealed another £300,000 in income from speeches.
Mr Harborne, a technology investor, is a former Tory donor who in 2019 was the bankroller of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Electoral Commission figures revealed that he gave Mr Farage’s party £3m during the summer of 2019 and another £3m during the December general election campaign.
He’s also said to have donated £13.7m to the Reform Party, the successor to the Brexit Party. Previously, he donated much smaller sums, averaging around £15,000 a year, to the Conservatives since 2001.
His £1m donation to Mr Johnson’s office now confirms he’s still passionate about Brexit and that he fears the Tories under Mr Sunak are backsliding on the issue and believes a Johnson comeback is the only way to deliver Brexit.
Earlier this week, in what was described as a rapturous speech to supporters at the Carlton Club, Mr Johnson declared: “Only one party really believes in Brexit. And when people realise this, I think the political dynamic is going to change.”
And in what was seen as a challenge to Mr Sunak to deliver tax cuts, he urged the Tories: “Keep making the case for levelling up, for opportunities and for a dynamic low-tax global Britain. That’s how we will win again!”
Officially, the occasion at the Carlton Club was to mark the unveiling of a portrait of Mr Johnson, an accolade awarded to all former prime ministers. But it was widely seen as the start of a campaign to mount a comeback bid by the former PM.
That view will now be massively reinforced by this huge donation and by the disclosure that Mr Johnson is earning fees of up to £250,000 for speaking engagements, as he did for one in Singapore in December, the latest records reveal.
Why then, many will ask, if he’s earning so much money, are he and his family continuing to live rent free in a home in swanky Knightsbridge worth £20m provided by Tory donors Lord and Lady Bamford?
According to his declaration in the register of MPs’ interests, that’s worth an estimated value of £10,000 a month. Yet it has been revealed that a similar property nearby is being offered at £30,000 a month.
Let’s also consider the latest declarations of David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, barrister and Sir Keir Starmer’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, no less. He’s revealed income from speeches since 16 November of £32,300 and nearly £5,000 for six radio shows on LBC.
Now, some of these speeches were at perfectly respectable and worthy events involving Black History Month, but others were for law firms and one was for Premier Foods, manufacturers of famous brands including Mr Kipling cakes, Ambrosia custard and Bisto gravy.
No jokes about a gravy train, please! But surely so much outside work is incompatible with being a senior member of Labour’s shadow cabinet? On Sophy Ridge on Sunday last weekend, Sir Keir backed a ban on MPs’ second jobs.
He defended Mr Lammy, however. “I think David does a lot of media work, and I think media work and writing books is all part of the political process,” he said.
Some will argue, though, that with war in Ukraine, China a growing threat and Iran so volatile, to name but a few international flashpoints, the very senior post of Shadow Foreign Secretary should be a full-time job.
Finally, a study of donations wouldn’t be complete without looking at fun-loving Matt Hancock. He’s revealed that his two free tickets for a night partying at Capital Radio’s Jingle Bell Ball in December with girlfriend Gina Colandangelo and a host of celebs were worth a total of £500.
For Boris Johnson, meanwhile, it’s also been a week when Cabinet minister Grant Shapps attempted to erase him from a photo.
But this new £1m donation makes it pretty obvious he isn’t going to disappear.