There are two pilgrimages which any ambitious British Conservative politician should undertake if he wants to seriously improve his chances of getting the top job. One is to Israel to be pictured with wearing a skull cap at the Western Wall.
The second is to the most exclusive Jewish charity event in the London social calendar. The Norwood Trust banquet is one of the most glittering social occasions in London. Under the chandeliers, networkers rub shoulders with likes of Elton John, Simon Cowell, Tom Jones, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sir Philip Green and anyone who is anyone in British Jewry.
It was on this august occasion last month that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson addressed the assembled notables and as usual charmed, amused and entertained the huge crowd at London’s Grosvenor Hotel. For “Boris,” as he is universally known, it was the latest in a long strategy of letting Britain’s most powerful ethnic community know that they can count on him. He followed that up last week with a trademark witty denunciation of Donald Trump’s proposed moratorium on Muslim immigration.
“The only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.” It was a response that delighted the British chattering classes. Typical Boris! A suitably witty quip from a man regarded as humorous as he is unkempt, and a celebrity among the ranks of anonymous political suits.
Probably only the Prime Minister himself enjoys more name recognition than London’s Mayor. Journalist, broadcaster, author and most of all, politician, the showbiz crowd-pulling power of “Boris” crosses party boundaries.
His tousle-haired, blonde charm is legendary and he has buckets of that most elusive political quality “likeability.” Part of the appeal is the stuttering, affable, upper-class buffoon act which seems cribbed entirely from the role Hugh Grant played in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. The ‘act’ is not just his persona. In fact he was christened Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and is called ‘Al’ by his family; “Boris” is a kind of stage name.
Deeply concealed though, is the driving ambition. His rivalry with David Cameron may have its roots in their school days at Eton or university at Oxford. Although a few years apart, it was Boris Johnson who struck most as “the man most likely to.” Their relationship has caused so much speculation it was even turned into a TV drama.
In the event, Cameron became Prime Minister while Boris was given the consolation prize of Mayor of London and used it to raise his profile even higher. Some thought he may have given up his plans for the top job when Cameron was so decisively re-elected last May but Boris’s ambition burns more fiercely than ever. How do we know?
Well, there is the ceaseless defence of the City of London — Britain’s bankers have no greater supporter than Boris. And then there is the informal campaign group and fan club dubbed the “friends of Boris” which seems to be on permanent stand-by.
But no Conservative politician can reach the top without the approval of the Jewish financial elite in Britain. And Boris has embarked on a long-term campaign of “signalling” to them that could not have been more blatant if he had hired a Goodyear advertisement blimp. There is the insistence that he is a “one-man melting pot” because he was born in New York and has French, Jewish, English and Turkish blood. There is the adulatory Winston Churchill biography. An addition to the vast Churchill lexicon is not exactly what the world needs, but it is a not-so-subtle pointer that the neocon agenda in general and Zionist foreign policy in particular, are safe with him.
There was the unlikely “row” over a trip to Palestinian areas which caused headlines when it was cancelled due to his pro-Israel remarks. There was the tearful visit to Yad Vashem. There was his dismissal of Israel’s critics as “snaggle toothed lefties.” There was his repeated insistence, trotted out again only this week, that he will continue to stand up for Israel after his Mayorship ends.
And then there are his new associates. At the last Norwood banquet Johnson was seen congratulating the newly-appointed President of the Norwood charity, former political lobbyist Lord Jonathan Mendelsohn. They bump into each other a lot. They were hobnobbing when Boris addressed a dinner at north London’s most prominent local synagogue with the Chief Rabbi. And at a tech conference Boris shared the stage with Lord Mendelsohn’s high-powered wife. Nicola Mendelsohn is the most powerful Facebook executive outside the USA and husband and wife are often described as a “power couple” .
It is hardly surprising that he should be seen conferring with a well-connected political fixer from the powerful Jewish community. What is surprising is that Lord Mendelsohn is a serving House of Lords spokesman for — and member of — the Labour Party.
A former Labour Friends of Israel chair and trustee of the Holocaust Education Trust, he was a key link man between Number 10 Downing Street and the business community, and he personally fund-raised for both Blair as well as his successor Gordon Brown. After working for Blair for some years, he launched his lobbying company LLM almost immediately after Labour was elected in 1997. It quickly gained a reputation which has been memorably summarised by the influential Guido Fawkes website thus:
In Westminster there is no murkier business than lobbying and of all the sleazy lobbyists there is no sleazier firm than LLM — Lawson, Lucas, Mendelsohn. Famous for cash-for-access scandals, representing opposing sides on legislation and generally being the scummiest lobbying firm in the Westminster village with coincidentally the closest links to New Labour.
At 10 Downing Street in the early nineties, Jonathan Mendelsohn and his mentor Michael Levy were quite the fund-raising doubles-act. It was a time when the Jewish business community moved into a driving role in the building up of New Labour and this led to snide media references to the “Kosher Nostra.” As a revealing article in the Guardian noted:
New Labour elevated a pre-existing Jewish network to national importance — and therein lies the problem. The Jewish community has long preferred to attempt to influence the political process through discreet advocacy and relationship building rather than through public demonstrations and campaigning. This discretion is rooted in long-standing concerns to be seen as good British citizens, to not show ingratitude to the “hospitality” of this country. British politics since the 1990s has witnessed a paradoxical process in which lobbying has become ever more important to government, yet ever more the object of public suspicion.
Wealthy Jewish backers did not want their bankrolling of the party revealed because it did not look good. This presented an interesting problem for Labour’s fundraisers. So, various wheezes were dreamed up by which the identity of donors could be concealed. One was to disguise donations as “loans” to the party, a second was hand-outs to favoured think-tanks or charities, and a third was the use of third-party proxies in whose name donations were made.
And Mendelsohn’s own lobbying firm LLM was dragged into the mire time and again. There were the newspaper exposés revealing practices that looked suspiciously like cash-for-access. There was the time that LLM’s client, the — Jewish owned — Tesco supermarket chain donated £12 million to Labour’s The Dome arena project. This coincided with the dropping of a proposed car park tax that could have cost Tesco £20 million.
Mendelsohn’s company became embroiled in another sleaze row when he was Labour’s chief fund raiser. On his watch it turned out that approximately £650,000 of donations were channelled through three third party “proxies” in a manoeuvre designed to conceal the identity of a Jewish millionaire. Despite calls for the lobbyist’s head over this one, the Labour Party decided to believe Mendelsohn’s pleas that it had nothing to do with him.
Then there was the sleazy gambling machine episode. Britain underwent a gambling boom in the nineties. The spread of a new generation of highly-addictive gambling machines netted huge profits for operators — but were also a scourge in poorer, more vulnerable communities. Poverty advocates, including the Salvation Army, campaigned for tighter controls. This should have been a sensitive issue for a Labour Party which was still masquerading as a defender of the poor.
Blair’s government did eventually act, but all it was interested in was grabbing a bigger slice of the gambling machine profits through taxation. At the time the huge Jewish-owned betting shop chain Ladbrokes was seeking to reduce its exposure to this tax.
LLM’s lobbying strategy paid off and the Labour government’s plan to tax the gambling machines was quietly dropped. Instead of controlling the industry, the new Gambling Act paved the way for Britain’s first super-casino (eight more are planned).
Boris Johnson also has no compunction about being pictured with another figure from the sleazy world of fund raising — Lord Michael Levy who was a bag man for Tony Blair. From the moment he entered parliament Tony Blair was an enthusiastic member of Friends of Israel. But it was at a dinner party at the home of an Israeli diplomat in 1994 that Blair, the newly appointed leader of the Labour Party, met the man who was to bankroll his private office when he reached Number 10. Michael Levy was a wealthy former record label owner who again, was seen as a gatekeeper to the wealthy Jewish figures whose names pop up again and again on the board of large charities — he was a former chair of Jewish Care, a member of the Jewish Agency World Board of Governors, and a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Potential donors would be invited for tennis at his palatial “hacienda” style home where Tony Blair would join them for a set or two. Levy would then proceed to ask the guests for donations after Blair had left.
When Blair became Prime Minister, Levy’s efforts paid off big time. Levy was subsequently ennobled as Lord Levy and then appointed as a ‘special envoy’ to the Middle-East, leading predictably to the development of a strong pro-Israel line. This drew much critical comment as Levy had both a house and business in Israel and Levy’s son Daniel used to work for the former Justice Minister of Israel. The fact that Levy acted as a fundraiser for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak cast further doubt on his capacity for impartiality.
But it all ended in tears, scandal, and police investigations. Lord Levy was arrested by police three times on suspicion that cash was being exchanged for peerages. (Predictably, police could not make the allegations stick and law officers decided not to prosecute.)
Each row seemed to have common characteristics. They involved Jewish businessmen, deception and apparent willingness to go to great lengths to achieve their goals, knowing that they had friends in high places in case things went wrong. There is no suggestion that Levy and Mendelsohn’s connections and access to Jewish funds gave them immunity, but it was striking how they emerged, if not smelling of roses, then unscathed, after each row.
Since then both men have prospered. After leaving politics without a stain on his reputation, Lord Levy is still glad-handing and schmoozing on behalf of his favourite Jewish charities. Lord Mendelsohn sold his company for £10 million and is now a Labour shadow minister in the House of Lords. At his induction he was accompanied by old friends and allies Lord Levy and Lord Greville Janner, the alleged pederast, who himself, of course, is no stranger to controversy.
Boris Johnson is doubtless quite aware of all this and is using it to ascend the corridors of power by taking full advantage of Jewish political consultants. Even his successful campaign to become President of the Oxford Union was won only with the help of a Jewish adviser who was to become a prominent political consultant in the US, Frank Luntz — which reminds us that a similar situation obtains in the US, except that Donald Trump’s candidacy is notable for eschewing the usual bowing and scraping before Jewish money.
Boris will step down after the next Mayoral elections are held in May. As his successor to the Mayorship, he is grooming another fellow Old Etonian, Zac Goldsmith, whose marriage to a Rothschild heiress represented a union of two of world’s wealthiest Jewish banking dynasties.
And curiously enough it is the Jewish and banking constituencies which may be most important if he tries to lead the Conservative Party. If he does make a bid for the top job, you can guarantee that Boris Johnson will have done his best to make sure he has all the right friends in the right places.