Sunday 19 November 2023

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton ...


Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton: David Cameron’s new title recalls chummy Tory set


Britain’s prime minister-turned-foreign secretary has a posh new moniker.



NOVEMBER 17, 2023 12:36 PM CET


LONDON — Britain’s comeback kid foreign secretary will be known as Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton — in an inadvertent callback to a chummy group of elite power-players from his time in Downing Street.


A House of Lords spokesperson confirmed that David Cameron will take on the new title on Monday, when he will be introduced to Britain’s second legislative chamber. In a shock return, the ex-prime minister was appointed foreign secretary by current-PM Rishi Sunak earlier this week.


Cameron was famously described by Britain’s media corps as a member of the “Chipping Norton Set” in the 2010s — a group of media, political and celebrity elites all hailing from the market town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.


Along with Cameron and his entrepreneur wife Samantha, the group included Rebekah Brooks, the head of Rupert Murdoch’s News U.K. operation, the broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson and Blur bassist Alex James. Brooks was known to be close to Cameron — and the pair exchanged cosy texts in the lead up to the 2010 election that saw Cameron enter Downing Street.


Cameron left the House of Commons in 2016 following his Brexit-induced resignation as prime minister. That meant he had to become an unelected peer in the House of Lords in order to serve as foreign secretary.


Wearing the traditional red, ermine, robes, Cameron will be introduced to the second chamber and take the oath Monday afternoon.


He will then for the first time take questions from fellow peers on his new foreign affairs brief.



‘Unfinished business’: the cosy world of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton


The new foreign secretary, snug in his coterie of ‘louche, power-hungry and amoral’ friends, is keen to be remembered for something other than Brexit


Daniel Boffey

Daniel Boffey Chief reporter

Sat 18 Nov 2023 06.00 GMT


Wearing a polo shirt, ear defenders, a Peaky Blinders-style hat and black wellington boots, David Cameron was driving Jeremy Clarkson’s tractor this time last year on a sunny Saturday morning when it exploded. “There was a bang and a Ukraine-sized mushroom cloud,” wrote Clarkson, who lives in a village neighbouring the hamlet of Dean in Oxfordshire where the former prime minister has a £1.5m home. “Oil splattered into all the blackberry bushes and bits of iron were to be heard landing several minutes later,” Clarkson said of his “mate’s” accident on his drive. Cameron had borrowed the red 1961 Massey Ferguson to mow his paddock, the broadcaster explained in a Sunday Times column. “He claims of course that he didn’t do anything wrong.”


Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, as he will be introduced in the House of Lords on Monday in order to allow him to serve in Rishi Sunak’s cabinet as foreign secretary, is no stranger to making such pink-cheeked denials of blame. There was the holding and losing of the Brexit referendum, the accusations of familiar relations with a pig’s head in his Oxford days and more recently the pocketing of $1m (£800,000) a year for his lobbying of ministers on behalf of the distressed finance company Greensill Capital. “I am riding to the rescue with supply chain finance with my new friend Lex Greensill,” texted Cameron in one of 12 messages to the then permanent secretary to the Treasury Sir Tom Scholar on 6 March 2020, when the financial markets were in freefall at the start of the Covid pandemic.


Through all of it, Cameron has retained a coterie of rather closer, albeit not always less controversial, friends than Greensill. Indeed, while global politics may have completely changed in the seven years since he left Downing Street, Cameron’s cosy social world has remained familiar. The groups can be loosely defined as those of the west London Notting Hill (twinned with Westminster) set, where the couple have a £4m home, and then, of course, the glamorous community around the town of Chipping Norton, near where Cameron and his wife bought a cottage in 2001, and the name of which the new peer of the realm has adopted in his title.


The London scene naturally includes his former chancellor, George Osborne, with whom he remains in constant contact, along with “some of the old team”, as one friend described them, such as the ex-Tory party chair Lord Feldman, the former communications director Craig Oliver and Cameron’s deputy chief of staff in Downing Street, Kate Fall. Fellow former Tory leader William Hague remains a close confidante. He is thought to have been in on the recent surprise appointment.


Then there are the journalists to whom he is more than a contact, including Daniel Finkelstein and Alice Thomson of the Times along with her husband Edward Heathcoat Amory, as well as Robert Hardman of the Daily Mail who attended the Camerons’ wedding in 1996.


He regularly speaks to Lord Vaizey of Didcot, formerly Ed Vaizey the MP for Wantage, and lunched in recent days with the former energy minister Greg Barker and the current development minister, Andrew Mitchell, two members of a Cameroon supporters club.


It once also included the former MP for East Devon, Hugo Swire, up to the point that his wife, Sasha, revealed all about the inner workings of Cameron’s “mateocracy” in her memoirs, Diary of an MP’s Wife. “Dave” stayed up late to watch the film Atonement, with the aim of “admiring” Keira Knightley’s nipples, Sasha reported of one of the couple’s visits to see the Camerons at Chequers. “As for his own personal game plan, he tells us seven years,” she wrote in her diary in 2010, “then a return to the back benches, some outside interests, and then leave altogether but also adds he would quite like to be foreign secretary one day.”


It is, however, the Chipping Norton set, of which Clarkson is a member, that is the most intriguing aspect of Cameron’s world to many, perhaps tantalised by the stories of cheese parties on the estate of the former Blur bassist Alex James and jolly pilgrimages to the Cornbury music festival, known as Poshstock, at Tew Park. Both Clarkson’s anecdote and sources in regular contact with the former prime minister today suggest that this set remains one of Cameron’s touchstones despite all the outside pressures upon it. “An incestuous collection of louche, affluent, power-hungry and amoral Londoners located in and around the prime minister’s Oxfordshire constituency,” was how the columnist Peter Oborne described them in 2011.


Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into media ethics the following year fleshed out the nature of the set when a cache of text and email exchanges between Cameron and Rebekah Brooks, at a time when she was head of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group in the UK, as she is today. Brooks and her husband, Charlie, who went to Eton with Cameron, live a mile from the former PM’s home in Dean, three miles south-east of Chipping Norton. Thanking Brooks for letting him ride one of her horses, Cameron had texted that the animal was “fast, unpredictable and hard to control but fun”. Brooks reminisced to the Leveson inquiry that Cameron signed some of his missives to her “LOL” – until she told him it meant “laugh out loud” not “lots of love”.



Charlie Brooks, a racehorse trainer, later admitted to having been disappointed with the way Cameron had suggested his wife should resign at the height of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World. Charlie Brooks was subsequently cleared of charges of perverting the court of justice. But the door was left open to a renewed friendship. He told LBC radio: “When this is all over, I’m sure he’ll explain; ‘I’m sorry but I was … these are the pressures I was under on that particular day.’ He also has pressures in this whole thing as well. So I don’t feel any anger towards him at all.” Asked if they could be friends again, he had replied: “Yeah, I do, yeah.”


It took a while for relations to normalise and the set is arguably not what it was since the divorce of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth, from the PR guru Matthew Freud. They had lived and regularly entertained at their sprawling country house in nearby Burford. But the Brooks are firmly back in Cameron’s world, sources say. “He does still see Charlie and Rebekah, there are drinks,” said a friend. Charlie Brooks was very close to Cameron’s older brother, Alex, who died in March this year aged 59 from pancreatic cancer. There has been further bonding in their shared grief.


Sources concede it may indeed be the case that there has been more contact with those around Chipping Norton in recent years due to Cameron’s rather light diary commitments. Immediately after leaving Downing Street, the position of the head of Nato had been floated “but it would have meant living in Brussels and Samantha was building up her business”, said a source. “The optics of commuting from London would have been awful so that came to nothing.”


Cameron told friends that he would instead spend the first two years out of Downing Street on the “speaking circuit” to avoid conflicts of interest. That took him around the world, as did being asked to lead a billion-dollar investment initiative agreed between the UK and China. But it left Samantha at home with their three children to fleetingly worry that they were not “getting on very well”, she told the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast in 2020. Then Covid, the embarrassing collapse of Greensill Capital and the change in relations between the UK and China put paid to Cameron’s global adventures. Samantha would go on to speak of her husband’s excellent cooking skills and dedication to serving up a family meal every night for her and Nancy, 19, Elwyn, 17, and 13-year-old Florence.


Sky News’s Kay Burley had commented on Monday about Cameron’s growing waistline when he astonished many by turning up at Downing Street but he has taken up playing more tennis with Feldman, a source said, runs a lot (something he had only taken up after becoming Tory leader in 2005) and is back shooting once in a while at the Salperton estate in Gloucestershire, a pastime he shed when he started leading the Conservatives.


After securing a reported £800,000 advance, he wrote his memoirs in £25,000 shepherd huts in the gardens of their homes in Dean and Trebetherick in Cornwall and is president of Alzheimer’s Research UK while Samantha has been establishing her fashion brand, Cefinn.


For three weeks in January this year Cameron lectured students at the New York University in Abu Dhabi on politics in the age of disruption. His company, the Office of David Cameron, became an unlimited company several years ago and no longer has to file company accounts but it is understood that he has been looking to move into “geopolitical consultancy”.


Friends admit, however, that they could not immediately recall much of late that has been taking up the 57-year-old’s time beyond golf, tennis and taking his youngest daughter riding. He had been a “bit bored” and “public service genuinely means something to him”, said one. The hope of forging a new legacy, distinct from the Brexit disaster, is a driving force, friends say. “He was only 49 when he stopped being prime minister and I think having been elected for a five-year term with lots of ideas and then blowing it 12 months in by your own hand was very frustrating for him,” said another who spoke to Cameron recently. “I think it is a case of unfinished busin

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