Prime Ministers Getting Paid

Shock and awe in Britain as it is announced that Boris Johnson’s extra-curricular earnings, since he left office in September, are approaching £5m. 

That’s a lot of money. It breaks down like this. The former prime minister has been given a £510,000 advance for his memoir from HarperCollins, about a hundred times the advance commanded by the average non-fiction writer. He has earned £1,943 in royalties for sales of his earlier books. Johnson’s company has also been given £1m (not counted towards the £5m) by the Thailand-based businessman Christopher Harborne

For someone with a large and complicated family, whose pre-premiership earnings included £250,000 a year for an hour’s work a week at the Daily Telegraph, stumbling into such easy money must feel gratifying. But we’re not done. The biggest part of this bonanza comes from speaking fees, for which Johnson was paid £1.8m before this week’s declaration, and for which he has received a £2.5m advance from his agents, Harry Walker, based in New York. 

Former prime ministers seem to make an ungodly amount from their speeches. Even Theresa May, hardly a natural raconteur, has declared £2.5m in speaking fees since 2019. She has spoken to banks like JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank, and was paid £107,600 for a speech to a conference in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. May was paid £408,200 by the Cambridge Speaker Series, based in California, for six speeches she gave last year. 

Many Brits grumble at this bounty. Temperamentally, we dislike it when other people get rich – especially when they’ve just been ejected from office. Once down, they should stay down, we think. But there’s also another aspect to all of this.  

No one can want to hear Theresa May talk that much, people say in the pubs across the country. The ludicrous sums changing hands must be for something else. Perhaps, they speculate, she is being rewarded for something she did while in office. Many Americans wondered the same thing about Hillary Clinton, whose $675,000 payment for three speeches at Goldman Sachs caused her grief in 2016, and has done ever since. Was this brazen corruption being exposed? 

In actual fact, it’s not. Just proof that some people are very rich, and that they like to throw money away. Executives love to surround themselves with the trappings of power. Politicians are good set dressing and are always ready to collect a cheque. 

Kim Campbell, who was prime minister of Canada for a few humiliating months in 1993, is still doing the conference circuit, hoovering up money from anyone willing to pay for the presence of a former G7 leader. She was hardly in office long enough to perform any favours. 

People are apt to forget just how much money there is in the world and how much of it resides in America – where people without class pay people without money to supply them a little gravitas from an ever-dwindling personal stock. 

This piece was originally published in the New Statesman.


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