Peter Cruddas is a self-made billionaire, a Conservative party donor and now, a Lord. His rise reveals a lot about Boris Johnson’s battle with parliament
Why this story?
Last month a secret document labelled “Project Homer” was leaked. It outlined a plan to pack the House of Lords with loyal Brexiteers to help the Prime Minister get his bills through and secure his legacy.
One such tactic was to use controversial nominees to distract from the number of peerages created. Few appointments have been more controversial than Peter Cruddas for whom Boris Johnson did something unprecedented: he ignored and overruled the House of Lords Appointments Commission’s advice not to appoint Peter Cruddas, the first time any Prime Minister has ignored their advice. So what does Lord Cruddas’ story tell us about Boris Johnson’s plans for the House of Lords? Matt Russell, Producer
‘Sweet Caroline’ plays…
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: It’s 30 July and we’re on the grounds of Daylesford House, a grand estate set in what one dweller calls the “Coutts-wolds.”
Across its 1,500 acres, there’s an orangery and an orchard, a secret garden and a swimming pool.
But here we are – under a needlessly big white marquee, listening to Neil Diamond’s classic…
‘Sweet Caroline’ continues…
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: …played in honour of Boris Johnson’s wife, Carrie, as the two twirl and shake on the empty dance floor.
He, in a cream linen suit with a blue shirt and tie; she in a gold sequin dress, reflecting the bright neon light around them.
Outside the marquee, guests enjoy South African sausage and ancient grain salad.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: The Johnsons’s wedding party was meant to be at the prime minister’s official country residence, Chequers.
It moved to Daylesford after Boris Johnson received, as he said in his speech earlier in the day, “masses of letters to resign, mostly from my closest family”.
But this party isn’t the first time that the owners of Daylesford have supported him.
Lord Bamford is a Conservative donor who was appointed to the House of Lords when David Cameron was prime minister. Together with his family and JCB companies, he has donated more than four million pounds to the Tories under Boris Johnson.
During the 2019 election campaign they even provided a red, white and blue JCB digger with the words “Get Brexit Done” written on the front – so Boris Johnson could drive through a wall with the word ‘Gridlock’ on it.
Clip: Sounds of Boris smashing through the wall.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: This isn’t just a wedding party.
It’s the prime minister’s legacy in a grain of sand: a blurring of public power and private gain.
More than his predecessors, Boris Johnson has used his patronage: not just for his government’s benefit, not just for his political party – but, above all, for himself…
… for the wedding venue, the Caribbean holidays and obsequious newspaper columns.
It was all for him.
And his main tool of reward, the House of Lords.
Philip Norton: “Some previous prime ministers have been a bit profligate in creating peerages as well. The view that it’s not just numbers, but an element of cronyism.”
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: At the wedding party there were at least two people who’ve been tipped for peerages in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list.
Two people out of a list which could run to 39 names.
Most will be Conservatives who’ll join the other 41 Tory members of the House of Lords he’s already created since becoming prime minister.
They tend to fall into two groups: people who’ve given personal favours and others who’ve given unyielding political support.
Millionaire David Ross fits in the first category. He facilitated Boris Johnson’s holiday on Mustique. The other, ultra-loyal cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, fits in the second.
And this reported list of new peers has been given added significance by a leaked report, that we’ve seen, by the prime minister’s political consultants Crosby Textor.
“I think the document referred to exacerbates the problem. It’s completely objectionable and it’s based on a misunderstanding of what the House of Lords is about.”
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: It’s called Project Homer, and it suggests flooding the Lords with ideologically sympathetic peers to make sure government legislation gets through.
It advises that controversial people are included to distract from the overall number of nominations and cites Evgeny Lebedev as an example. Our reporting has shown his nomination wasn’t supported by the security services.
Crosby Textor has played down the significance of this document – but how much could it be guiding Boris Johnson’s actions?
One man, who is also cited in Project Homer, might help answer that question
“I Peter, Lord Cruddas do swear by almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God.”
Lord Peter Cruddas, from the Peruddas archive:
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: But in many ways this story is about much more than his peerage.
Cruddas: I mean, I’ve never hit anybody that hard in my life… I’m not generally a violent person, or though I will stand up for myself. I never backed down on anything on business and on a sports field. And… it was a sad and a happy moment.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: I’m Paul Caruana Galizia, and in this week’s Slow Newscast from Tortoise, the rise of Peter – now Lord Cruddas.
Because to elevate him to the House of Lords, Boris Johnson had to do something no prime minister had done before.
“When things go outside the rules there’s an embarrassment. I think it’s an embarrassment that we can’t do anything about it.”
And now Lord Cruddas is throwing all his considerable energies into paying Boris Johnson back.
Paul Caruana Galizia: Thank you so much.
Cruddas: Yeah I’m surprised myself I’m doing it, to be honest.
Paul, narrating: Peter Cruddas wasn’t initially keen on an interview – for reasons that will become clear.
Cruddas: Well I kept getting messages from you and I thought ah, who are these guys, I’m going to ignore them. Because I get a lot of emails. And then you persisted and then you pissed me off a bit.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: We met at the headquarters of his £690 million company in the City. It’s a great social distance, but a very short geographical one, from his origins.
Cruddas: So Lord Cruddas of Shoreditch, I mean, when you go into the House of Lords, you can kind of choose your title… I could have chosen Mayfair where I live now, but I thought no Shoreditch is the right title. That’s where I’m from.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Shoreditch in the late-1950s, when he was a young boy, was all bomb sites, industrial decline, and deprivation.
Cruddas: Really, you just had to scratch out a living. The opportunities weren’t there. Kids like me weren’t expected to go to university. I was certainly clever enough. I was probably the cleverest kid in the school. I did a Mensa test – I got an IQ of 155, apparently that’s high.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: An IQ score at that level would place him in the top one per cent of Britain’s population.
Cruddas: So I never really enjoyed school. I enjoyed primary school, because I, you know, I got more attention and more tutoring and I could really thrive in that environment. But at secondary school it was just, someone was ticking a box, because we all had to be educated and there was this big comprehensive school and always was disappointed. I wanted to go to a grammar school, but I never went to a grammar school.
Paul: So you, you left school.
Cruddas: At fifteen… There was a job advertised, you know, trainee teleprinter operators. And I applied for an interview… and I got the job and they said, yep, start on Monday.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: He was paid £8 a week – about £90 pounds in today’s money. He worked hard, earned a few shillings more per week, and was promoted to the trading room.
Cruddas: The good thing back then was that I was bringing money in to my mum. I would give her my weekly wage. The whole money, everything. There’s the money mum, give it to her on a Friday night and then she’d give me a few quid back as my pocket money. I figured I had to pay for my keep. I wanted to help my mum… When I finished the night shift, I would also, you know, wait for her and do office cleaning with her for a couple of hours.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: He had to help his mother, because although his father worked as a supervisor at Smithfield meat market, he didn’t provide for his family
Cruddas: My dad was an inventor. He invented binge drinking. Twenty-five pints of Guinness and one bottle of rum per day.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: His mother felt she couldn’t divorce his father because his name was on their council flat’s rent book. But the power in their home was shifting.
Cruddas: I was giving her money. She wasn’t dependent upon my dad, because there were constant arguments about money. My dad needed to hang onto every penny that he made so he could keep drinking and my mum needed to feed the kids and he was completely irresponsible, my dad. It was quite traumatic, really, living in that environment.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: And then, at last, the balance tipped.
Cruddas: One day I just snapped. I came home, my mum was upset. My dad had hit her. I said, I’ve fucking had enough of this. And I was furious.
He was asleep in the chair and I waited for him to wake up and I said ‘listen, you don’t touch mum anymore. That’s enough now’, and he was a little bit pissed, I guess, a little bit hungover. I’m not proud of this because it’s the best and worst thing I’ve ever done in my life.
And his attitude – ‘what you gonna fucking do about it then?’ And he came out of the seat and scared the life out of me and I just smashed him right in the face, broke his nose. I heard it go. And he just slumped back in the chair. I think he passed out for a few seconds and then blood everywhere pouring out of him. My mum was screaming. She grabbed a tea towel, gave it to him. He held it up to his nose and he couldn’t move. I mean, I’d knocked him right out. And it was, I guess, years of frustration and anger of a man that I didn’t respect as a father, that treated my mum poorly, who I love dearly and was a very good mum to myself and my two brothers. And here she was being abused and I’d just had enough.
And he was scared of me after that. And he never touched my mum and it gave me a feeling of control and power, which I never abused because he was still my dad.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Peter Cruddas took his new sense of independence and determination into business.
Cruddas: I understood everything about trading and so on. And I progressed from a humble telex operator into a trader. Then at 35, I started my own company. And basically it was a brokerage company, but here’s the unique… the thing that happened that sort of transformed my business, we went from a little boutiquey business and one day I read about the internet.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: He spotted its potential to transform trading and in 1996 he launched one of the first online trading platforms. A move that made him extremely rich and eventually took him to Monaco.
Cruddas: Back in ‘09, you know there was the Gulf war, there was socialist government.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Peter Cruddas didn’t like what was happening back home. Upset by the Iraq War and what he saw as the Labour government’s mismanagement of the economy, he felt Britain was veering in the wrong direction.
Cruddas: I believe in capitalism, I believe in centre-right politics, I believe in immigration, I believe in low taxes, I believe in border controls, everything that’s made this country great.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: He moved home and in 2009 he decided to act.
Cruddas: I gave the Conservatives £200,000 to fight the next election. Of course I’m then on their radar and I kept supporting them. I wanted to help them. David Cameron became the prime minister in a coalition government and I wanted to keep helping them. I became a member of the leader’s group, which is £50,000 donation.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: He was suddenly drawn into a world of Conservative party fundraising, attending dinners and drinks hosted by the party chairman Andrew Feldman.
Cruddas: Andrew knew how to work a room. So he would sort of stand around in a circle and he’d quite casually drop in.
‘Oh yeah. Yeah. So I popped in to see David over the weekend.’
‘David who? Oh, is it prime minister?’
So I popped to see him and Sam was there with the kids and we had a chat and we actually had a bit of Shepherd’s pie and stuff like that. And so he kind of used that personal relationship with David Cameron.
And then of course at a social event, I mean, people walk, walk past and say, oh, by the way, Andrew, I’ve got a cheque for the party. I said, I’d give you my, and, and I dunno what the size of the cheque. It could have been 50,000. It could have been a thousand, I don’t know, but it’d make sure it’d give it to him. Because they thought, oh, he’s mates with the prime minister.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: That’s Peter Cruddas’s account of how Andrew Feldman operated. Andrew Feldman declined to comment. As we’ll hear, he’s a man who Peter Cruddas came to dislike.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: For really big donations, Andrew Feldman turned to Peter Cruddas.
During a referendum on the voting system in 2011 he asked Peter Cruddas for half a million pounds to support a campaign to maintain First-Past-The-Post, which favoured the Conservatives.
Channel 4 reporter: With more than 300 areas declared, 68 per cent of people have voted no to changing the voting system, whilst just 32 per cent are in favour.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: His contribution to the successful campaign was rewarded.
Cruddas: I kind of knew it was coming because they kind of thought, ‘hang on a minute, this bloke’s Conservative, he’s working class, he’s off a council estate, he’s self made, he’s an entrepreneur, he pays these taxes, he gives to charity. What’s not to love about this guy?’ I mean, politically I tick a lot of boxes.
And so they invited me to be the treasurer of the Conservative Party. And that came with being a board member and on the finance committee, which I considered a great honour.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: As treasurer, Peter Cruddas was expected to donate £750,000 a year and to underwrite the party’s finances.
He was good for the money but, when he drove to Conservative headquarters in London, he was asked to park his Rolls-Royce round the back and was sidelined at important events.
Cruddas: I wouldn’t say I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, but I kind of wouldn’t let people talk down to me.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: David Cameron, an Old Etonian, ran the party – and government – with a small group of fellow travellers. It was…
Cruddas: …Like a fucking Oxford reunion. It felt like it was a little club and you had to be part of that club to make any headway or to get your voice heard a little bit.
So I decided that I wasn’t part of the clique. I wasn’t gonna try to be part of the clique. I’d rather not be part of it. I actually didn’t like the way I was treated. I felt I was just being used for money. Well, there’s a first in politics, isn’t there, you know, but I accepted that. I said to my wife, I said, you know, what’s gonna happen. They’re gonna treat me like shit.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: In March 2012, two people came to Peter Cruddas’s office.
Cruddas: I didn’t even know their names and they walked in my door and they said they wanted to donate some money to the Conservative Party.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: They told him they worked for a foreign investment fund and wanted to meet the prime minister to “put across their points of view”.
Sunday Times Reporter: “If we really want to get ourselves noticed and get ourselves invited to the very top level so that we would be taken seriously when we meet Mr Cameron at Downton Abbey, for example, what do you think is a suitable amount for us to give?”
Cruddas to Sunday Times: “Minimum of a hundred grand a year, minimum… A hundred grand is not Premier League. It’s not bad. It’s probably bottom of the Premier League. Two hundred grand, two-fifty is Premier League, but anything between a hundred and two fifty…”
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Here’s what Peter Cruddas said they could expect:
Cruddas to Sunday Times: “When we talk about your donations the first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron and Osborne dinners, and in fact some of our bigger donors have been for dinner in Number 10 Downing Street, in the prime minister’s private apartment with Samantha.”
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: The meeting seemed to have gone well. Peter Cruddas emailed Conservative headquarters to tell them to expect a large donation.
Nine days later, when he was on his way to feed his daughter’s cats, Poppy and Tippy, the Sunday Times called him and asked for a response to their allegations that he’d corruptly offered access to the prime minister for cash – and that he’d advised on how to conceal the foreign source of their donation.
BBC Reporter: A nightmare headline in the Sunday Times. The paper had secretly recorded the Tory’s top fundraiser offering access, and maybe influence, in return for big donations.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Peter Cruddas denied the allegations.
He called Conservative Party chairman Andrew Feldman, who said they’d have to wait until 9pm to see the story and, before hanging up, told him, “Good luck.”
Peter Cruddas went from an asset to a liability overnight. The prime minister wanted him out.
David Cameron: Well look, what happened is completely unacceptable. This is not the way that we raise money in the Conservative Party. It shouldn’t have happened. It’s quite right that Peter Cruddas has resigned.
Cruddas: What he did was vicariously defamed me because he was endorsing a story that wasn’t true. So I could’ve sued the prime minister.
Paul: Why didn’t you?
Cruddas: This was upsetting for my children and for my wife, it was upsetting. They didn’t like to see me being talked about in this way. And it was upsetting for me as well. That was the main reason. I thought if I go out and sue the prime minister, this thing is never gonna go away.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Instead, he sued the newspaper and the two journalists…
The judge ruled that the journalists had acted maliciously in attempting to show that he had tried facilitating an illegal donation.
And he ruled that Peter Cruddas’s offer for them to meet the prime minister was not an opportunity for them to influence government policy, because he issued this disclaimer during the meeting:
Cruddas to Sunday Times: Because we depend on donors so much we have to be very careful what we say. Sounds a lot worse than it is I promise you. We have to be careful. You cannot buy access to the prime minister full stop. If you donate you will be invited to events where the prime minister is there and frequently if you get into the right club, and I can advise you, you could well be at a private house, having a private dinner with the chancellor, William Hague, David Cameron, Michael Gove, all the top ministers, the chairman of the party.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: The judge added that Peter Cruddas “suffered public humiliation from the prime minister”.
But the victory would be short lived. The newspaper appealed.
The Court of Appeal upheld the part of the ruling which found that Peter Cruddas didn’t try to facilitate a foreign donation, which would have been unlawful. It also upheld the finding that the journalists had acted maliciously in reporting that allegation.
But – the judges overturned the finding that there was no offer of access for a donation. It said:
Judge voiceover: Cruddas was effectively saying to the journalists that if they donated large sums to the Conservatives, they would have an opportunity to influence Government policy. Cruddas was not suggesting criminal offences under the Bribery Act 2010. Nevertheless, what he proposed was unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong.
Cruddas: It’s legal! And they said it’s unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong for me to do what every party does. I found it bizarre.
Paul: Do you feel, rightly or wrongly, do you feel like the Court of Appeal was, in effect, making a judgement on fundraising in general.
Cruddas: Do you know what I really think? And I’ve never said this. I think the Court of Appeal, this is my personal opinion, was political. I think the mindset – of course they would argue differently – the mindset of the Court of Appeal was to give something back to the Sunday Times.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: The appeal judges ordered Peter Cruddas to repay some of the damages, reducing them from £180,000 to £50,000.
But the real damage had been done. Peter Cruddas was cast out of the Establishment.
Cruddas: I gave Cameron a chance to put things right. To apologise. You know, and I don’t think he did. I think that contempt that I felt from the clique before this happened, when the Sunday Times story happened, and after it happened. They still weren’t prepared to treat me with respect. When he gave his so-called apology, to me… it wasn’t really sincere, and so I thought, ‘fuck you’.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Peter Cruddas stopped donating to the Conservative Party and focused on a new kind of politics: Brexit.
In 2015, a few months after that ruling by the Court of Appeal, he joined the board of Vote Leave.
Cruddas: I was on the front line. I was the treasurer. I was a major donor. I kept it afloat.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: The official Leave campaign went head to head with David Cameron who had called the Brexit referendum but had come out in support of Remain.
Peter Cruddas now found himself riding the red battle bus with another kind of Old Etonian – Boris Johnson.
Cruddas: We went to rallies, we went campaigning. I mean, it wasn’t really an orchestrated type of relationship. Our paths just kept crossing, kept crossing. And he knew me from Conservatives and stuff, and I just got on well with him, but no better than say Priti Patel and other Brexiteers.
Paul: And so the campaign was very successful.
Cruddas: Very successful. Yeah.
The decision taken in 1975 by this country to join the common market has been reversed by this referendum to leave the EU.
David Dimbleby on the night of 23 June 2016
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: At the Vote Leave headquarters, Peter Cruddas and Boris Johnson hugged. David Cameron resigned.
David Cameron: The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.
Lewis Vickers: How did you feel when he was resigning?
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: That’s my producer, Lewis Vickers.
Cruddas: Probably a little bit mixed. Not as euphoric as you might think… as I described in the book, it was outflanking a couple of Muppets from Oxford university. But I mean there was a bit of anger towards him in there I guess, but I actually felt that he was a pretty good prime minister.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: It would take another three years for Boris Johnson to become prime minister.
Cruddas: We became a Brexit country back in 2016, and Boris had led that campaign and basically naively or not, we at Vote Leave expected the core Vote Leave team to end up in Number 10.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: When he did, Peter Cruddas donated £50,000 to his campaign.
Cruddas: I wanted a Brexit prime minister to deliver a Brexit Britain. That’s what we fought for. That’s what I spent a million odd quid on supporting, you know.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: They won again. And Boris Johnson wanted to show his gratitude.
Cruddas: We had a drink and he wanted to thank his supporters. And he turned up late and, you know, gave a speech and we shook hands and cuddled on his way out. And that was it, you know. But Danny Kruger came up to me and said, oh, you know, prime minister wants to see you at Number 10. We’ll give you a call in a couple of days. I went, yeah, okay, fine.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: The meeting happened on 19 September 2019 at 4.45pm. Ben Elliot, who replaced Andrew Feldman as the Conservative Party chairman, was in the room with Boris Johnson.
Cruddas: He said, basically, that he would like to put Brexiteers in the Lords because you gotta remember all the shenanigans from the House of Lords that, you know, bills were coming through from parliament and the Lords were rejecting everything to do with Brexit. And so he wanted more Brexiteers in the Lords, and it was a great honour to receive that.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: After the meeting, Ben Elliot took a lovely photo of Peter Cruddas outside Number 10.
But it would be more than a year before he took his seat
Peter Cruddas’s appointment was delayed because the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac) which vets but can’t veto nominees, didn’t support his appointment.
Boris Johnson over-ruled the commission and MPs asked its chair, Lord Bew, to provide answers.
Lord Bew: This is the first time a prime minister has sought to go ahead. In fairness, he has been totally open as to his reasons, and his letter to us is a powerful letter of the case for Lord Cruddas – for example charity work, and so on. Nonetheless, we stand over what we said. We had a reason for saying it, which is what had been said in the court, and we had a reason for saying it, particularly in relation to our second criterion, which is Parliament and the standing of Parliament.
So that’s it. We said no. We felt we had no alternative. It places Holac in a very difficult position. The prime minister has been totally honest and open about the reasons why he thought we were wrong, and I have been absolutely clear in my letter to you, so you know why we think we were right. And that’s it. The Committee as a whole was united on that subject.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: It’s been reported that when it came to protecting the standing of parliament, Holac felt Boris Johnson wouldn’t have nominated a man so harshly judged by the appeal court if he hadn’t been such a generous donor to the Conservatives.
And Lord Bew added:
Bew: … It was certainly absolutely clear to me that the prime minister wanted this person in a big way.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: It meant a lot to Peter Cruddas.
Cruddas: And this is where I think Boris differs from Cameron because Boris said you are wrong and I’m gonna override you. And I’m gonna write a letter of why I’m overriding you and I’m gonna put it in the public domain. And I’m very grateful that he did that because what Holac were doing was damaging my reputation.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Just three days after Peter Cruddas took his seat as a Conservative member of the House of Lords, he donated half a million pounds to the Party.
Cruddas: I can understand why people have made something out of that, but hang on a minute, I’m already in the Lords. Why do I need to donate? You know, I mean, if I was paying to get into the House of Lords, and by the way, you can’t do that, that’s corruption, that’s criminality. And, you know, there’s, there’s no evidence of that, because it didn’t exist.
The fact of the matter is I’d committed to give the Conservative Party, you know, in my own mind, sums of money over a period of time. And I suppose I should have thought about it a bit more, but I mean, you gotta remember going into the Lords as well was when Covid was locked down. It was just like, I turned up, I swore on the Bible and I came home. Didn’t even feel like I was in the Lords to be honest.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: It was Peter Cruddas’s largest single donation yet and took his total donations to the Conservatives above £3 million. Which is interesting.
It seems to fit a pattern.
- Andrew Fraser donated a little more than £3 million before being made Lord Fraser.
- James Lupton donated £2.95 million before taking his seat as Lord Lupton, and then another £60,000 after his maiden speech.
- Michael Spencer donated about £5 million pounds to the party before being made Lord Spencer.
- Michael Farmer donated around £7 million pounds before being made Lord Farmer.
Fifteen of the last sixteen Conservative party treasurers were offered peerages, having each donated at least £3 million pounds to the party.
A Daily Telegraph column from 2006 described the “sale of peerages” as a “crime that is quintessentially British, and unknown to any other jurisdiction on earth”. The columnist? One Boris Johnson.
Angela Smith: I don’t think I know him or would recognize him other than from television, if I’m honest, when he is out defending Boris Johnson. But I think peers are embarrassed when they think things aren’t done properly, you know, the House of Lords, cross party sees itself in many ways as custodians of the constitution. And when things go outside the rules, there is an embarrassment. I think it’s an embarrassment that we can’t do anything about it.
My name’s Angela Smith. I’m the leader of the Labour group in the House of Lords and therefore leader of the opposition in the House of Lords.
When you look at the website and you can see the contributions people have made, but you can also look at what their interests are that they have to declare. If your interests are longer than the contributions you have to make, if it’s a longer list, then there’s something that’s not quite right isn’t there?
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Peter Cruddas’s only contribution to the House, besides his maiden speech, was a question on temporary cycle lanes in London, in which he explained that he’s a keen cyclist.
Meanwhile, in his register of interests: 11 directorships.
But Peter Cruddas has voted 257 times out of 269 votes since taking his seat. It’s a better voting rate than the Conservative leader of the House of Lords.
Cruddas: I voted more than anybody else, more than ministers, more than anybody else. And I’ve been on two committees. I don’t speak so much, because I haven’t got bloody time, to be honest. I can’t do everything.
Across all those 257 votes, he went against the Conservatives just once. On a bill to extend abortion rights in Northern Ireland.
Smith: I think what Boris Johnson said, look I can’t win the argument, even my own people aren’t voting for these bills or for these issues. So I’m going to appoint people who will, and we’ll just win by sheer numbers.
Owen Paterson who of course was found to have broken the rules on paid lobbying just last week and is now after that government U-turn…
Sky News reporter
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apologising for parties that allegedly breached Covid-19 lockdown rules after he and dozens of others were fined…
Today, Number 10 said the prime minister was aware of reports and speculation about Mr. Pincher…
Channel 4 reporter
Borris Johnson: It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that Party and therefore a new prime minister.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: It was Boris Johnson’s personal failure to live up to standards in public life, and his support for other Conservatives who fell short, that ended his premiership.
It started with him defending Owen Paterson despite a committee of MPs finding that his lobbying brought parliament into disrepute…
… and ended with his appointment of Chris Pincher despite the history of allegations of sexual assault and harrassment against the Deputy Whip.
And it’s personal loyalty that some people think can bring him back – through a campaign to give Conservative Party members a say over whether to accept his resignation, waged in the pages of the Daily Express, on the Conservative Post website, and in Peter Cruddas’s tweets.
Peter Cruddas even instructed his lawyers to threaten legal action against the party.
Cruddas: I was angry about the removal of Boris, he was constructively dismissed as prime minister. Why was I angry?
First of all, I like Boris, but if he was a Remainer I wouldn’t have been angry, because I’m a Brexiteer. We need a Brexit government, and I felt Boris was elected, he got 43 per cent of the popular vote. He won an 80-seat majority and he had a manifesto, a mandate from the electorate to deliver.
He has effectively been constructively dismissed by a group of MPs. But the problem with that is that it’s going against the electorate and it cannot be right for a political party to be having the tail wagging the dog.
So the whole thing stinks and I think it’s the long-term destruction of the Conservative Party. I’ve seen this in business a lot. If you run a business for your mates, it ends in tears and the members are being disenfranchised. So it’s moved beyond Boris.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: His campaign to save Boris Johnson’s premiership looks doomed to fail, but for Peter Cruddas, it’s also about changing the constitution of the Conservative Party so that its control shifts away from MPs and closer to party members.
Cruddas: If you give me the choice – Keep Boris, same constitution or change the constitution. I take the second one, but I would like Boris. The third choice would be to have Boris and the new constitution. That would be Nirvana for me.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: And if he can’t keep Boris Johnson or change the party’s constitution, he says he’ll stop giving the party money.
Cruddas: If nothing changes, if Boris goes and the constitution stays the same I’m not interested because it’s corrupt and it’s wrong and it’s not a personal thing, it’s just a wrong way to run a business. It’s the wrong way to run a political party and it’s gonna get worse. And it’s… so I can’t, I can’t give to the party having what they’ve done to Boris is just a catalyst for me to say: enough.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Peter Cruddas has donated more than £4.5 million to the party so far.
Paul: There’s one more, one more thing in the memo that I found odd. The idea that loyalty could be incentivized with lunches and dinners at Chequers.
Anglea Smith: Yeah. I’m certain that wouldn’t work in the Labour Party. You know, again, it’s given up on trying to make the argument for legislation they’re putting forward.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Project Homer – the memo prepared by Boris Johnson’s advisors at Crosby Textor – aims to pack the Lords with peers who’d be supportive of the government.
It says that “to prevent further defeats on contentious government Bills… there are a limited number of potential solutions available”.
It outlines them as:
“Appoint new Conservative peers who will attend the Lords and vote with the government on important pieces of legislation and professionalise the Lords leadership.”
The government disavows Project Homer – and Crosby Textor says it was just a discussion document for a think tank.
But it’s 27 pages long, full of data and graphs, and includes anonymised quotes from interviews with Conservative peers. A lot of time, and so money, seems to have gone into recommendations like using lunches and dinners at Chequers as treats and gifts.
Norton: My view is if they’re offering, anybody’s offering more than a cup of tea, one needs to be quite wary about it, because one doesn’t want to feel an obligation.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Philip, Lord Norton is a Conservative peer. He’s been described as the UK’s “greatest living expert on Parliament” and “a world authority on constitutional issues.”
I asked him about another one of the memo’s suggestions: that newly created peers sign a pledge of obedience to the government.
Norton: It’s completely objectionable. Of course no peer should sign any document to support any government or anybody at all. One is there to offer one’s advice to have an input based on one’s expertise or one’s experience on that particular issue. It sort of renders the whole process pointless in many respects, if it’s just gonna be that obvious, how you are going to behave? So no it’s constitutionally completely objectionable.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: The memo advises that likely defeats on two Brexit bills – the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Brexit Freedom bills – will provide a “perfect excuse” and “excellent cover” for the prime minister to put more loyalists in the Lords.
Another form of cover to prevent a media backlash: more Scottish and Welsh peers, which it says would improve the representation of these currently under-represented areas in the Lords.
Another incentive: honours like CBEs and Special Envoys or Adviser positions.
Norton: It’s based on a misunderstanding of what the House of Lords is about. And I think that’s a problem at the moment. The government not fully understanding the nature, or respecting, the nature of the second chamber and what it’s there to do. And some of the motivation appears to be, oh, the Lords keeps defeating the government. Well, the government loses various votes. But the government attaches undue importance to that, and really doesn’t understand what the process is. As if the Lords is defeating the government in a particular vote. Therefore that’s killing something off or not. It’s not, it’s merely inviting the Commons to think again on a particular subject.
Paul: Do you think this prime minister or, or government, has tested the limits of the constitution more than others that have come before it?
Norton: Well, the simple answer is yes.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: But the real question is why. As Lord Norton says, the Lords can only ask the Commons to think again. So: Why is the prime minister testing the limits of the constitution in this way?
Personal loyalty is one answer.
Smith: I can understand a prime minister wanting to thank people and reward people for the support they’ve given them, and to recognise that, but that doesn’t mean they need a place in the legislature.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Boris Johnson has used his patronage to reward those who support him.
But Lord Cruddas doesn’t quite fit.
While he’s only made two spoken contributions to the Lords, he’s voted in almost every single vote since taking his seat – in support of the government. And he’s donated money to the Conservatives – not just Boris Johnson.
So, it’s not your classic case of personal loyalty and patronage.
He’s there because he’s a Brexiteer and because the prime minister, as Lord Norton puts it, doesn’t understand or respect the role of the upper chamber in the Brexit debate.
Paul: Some might think, hang on, the prime minister is sending people who are personally loyal to him.
Cruddas: Do you not think that somebody with my experience and political interest should be in the Lords?
I’ve got a lot of political pedigree… but people don’t want to talk about that.
I mean the two things that I’ve been involved with have been very important to this country’s constitution or democracy. No to AV, the voting system, and Vote Leave. I think I’m very experienced politically. And guess what? I’m one of Britain’s most successful businessmen. Guess what? I go into the House of Lords and give my time for free.
I don’t claim my 300 pounds a day. Guess what? I’m one of the biggest taxpayers. If I don’t qualify for the House of Lords, then tell me who does, because you don’t want more MPs in there. You want a diverse background of people and guess what? I didn’t go to Oxford.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Peter Cruddas has offered unyielding political support to Boris Johnson, but not personal favours like other peers.
Take, in contrast, Evgeny Lebedev who Boris Johnson sent to the Lords as a crossbencher – despite a warning from the security services.
Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia has never voted. Aside from his maiden speech, he’s made no spoken contribution to the House.
He has never officially donated to the Conservatives – or to Boris Johnson’s campaigns.
The electorate – leave or remain – gets nothing for Evgeny Lebedev’s seat.
But one man did. Over more than a decade, Evgeny Lebedev has used his Evening Standard newspaper to flatter and promote Boris Johnson.
Lord Northcliffe, whose family sold the Evening Standard to Evgeny Lebedev, joked that when he wanted a peerage he’d buy one, “like an honest man.”
Another rumour is that the newspaper baron got his peerage from the prime minister on the advice of Edward VII, after he had given financial assistance to the king’s mistress.
These anecdotes come from the historian Andrew Roberts.
He has a track record of brilliant history books. And a trail of newspaper columns.
Ones that are excessively flattering of Boris Johnson, comparing him to Winston Churchill and celebrating his achievements as glorious.
Here’s an extract from an early one:
“From personal knowledge, I can attest that Carrie – the first woman to marry a prime minister in office since Mary Chester tied the knot with Robert Jenkinson in 1822 – is a charming, intelligent and highly altruistic woman who is likely to be an enormous help to Boris for decades.”
People singing Sweet Caroline.
Clip of Daylesford party
When I asked Andrew Roberts for an interview about Boris Johnson’s legacy, he replied with: “No thanks, but thanks. I’ll explain why in October.”
October is significant. By then, Boris Johnson’s new peers will be in their seats.
Some will fall into the personal loyalty category, like Andrew Roberts, Evgeny Lebedev, David Ross, and – reportedly – Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail’s publisher.
A day before Boris Johnson was ousted, the newspaper’s editorial said: “Boris Johnson, without question the most extraordinary politician of his generation, has the attributes to be a truly great prime minister.”
The Project Homer report cites Paul Dacre as an example of how controversial nominees distract the media from the actual number of peerages created.
And it’s here – in the category of political support – that we should perhaps pay closer attention.
Peter Cruddas’s appointment, in fact, distracted us from the prime minister’s bigger project.
Cruddas: He put into the House of Lords around 10 Brexiteers around my time: Dan Hannan Jacqueline Foster, Syed Kamall, who was an MEP.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: What Peter Cruddas’s appointment shows is Boris Johnson’s willingness to ride out controversy to secure his legacy.
Clip: Sounds of Borris smashing through the wall.
Paul Caruana Galizia, narrating: Brexit.
Some of his Lords have helped him personally, but most are there to ensure his Brexit gets done.
“Stay right here,” Homer wrote, “preside in our house with me and be immortal.”
This episode of the Slow Newscast was reported and produced by me, Paul Caruana Galizia, and Lewis Vickers. Sound design was by Sam Mbatha. The editors were Matt Russell and Ceri Thomas.
How we got here
Our reporting on the House of Lords began with a story on Greg, Lord Barker three years ago. Since then, we’ve been interested in the way prime ministers use their power of patronage over the upper chamber of parliament. The reporting continued with a series of pieces on Evgeny, Lord Lebedev who Boris Johnson sent to the Lords despite a warning from the security services. But in Peter, Lord Cruddas we found a more complex and revealing case of the way power works in Britain.
The House of Lords Appointments Commission told Johnson that it couldn’t support Peter Cruddas’s nomination – and, for the first in the commission’s history, it was overruled by the prime minister. Johnson overruled them, our reporting found, not just because Peter Cruddas had donated enormous sums of money to the party but because the prime minister needed to pack the upper chamber with loyal Brexiteers to get his bills through and secure his vain legacy. It’s an approach to parliament highlighted in a once secret document we’ve seen called Project Homer. Paul Caruana Galizia, Reporter
Londongrad: How the Lebedevs partied their way to power
Paul Caruana Galizia’s investigation into the Lebedevs’ ascent to the top of London’s establishment reveals how easy it was for Britain to be bought
Making sense of Londongrad, with Paul Caruana-Galizia
What does the story of the oligarchs say about Britain?
Welcome to Londongrad: why does London still attract so much dirty money?
Is it really such a bad thing if the world’s billionaires want to bring their money into the city?
Lebedev: Lord of Siberia
Door after door in Britain has been opened for Evgeny Lebedev, all the way to the House of Lords. Who has opened them, and why?
Greg Barker: the lord’s work
The days of the Russian oligarch in London are numbered. What fate awaits the enablers – those well-connected people who worked for and provided services to wealthy Russians? This is the story of one of them
Episode 1: The advance party
Britain prides itself on being impregnable; a country which hasn’t been invaded for 1000 years and can’t be bought. The Lebedevs give the lie to all that. They spent a lot, but not a fortune, buying their way into British public life. And they did it in a way which perhaps nobody had tried before: they amused the people who mattered
Episode 2: The Royal Borough of Kensington and Moscow
The oligarchs who made their way to London in the early 2000s and changed it presented themselves as embodiments of the new Russia; members of the global elite, and arms-length beneficiaries of Vladimir Putin’s new order, not slaves to it. Those were the terms on which Britain let them in, but it was mugged
Episode 3: Project Venus
There comes a moment in any successful invasion of a country when you can no longer hide, your plans have to become obvious. It’s a moment of jeopardy but if you can get through it – as Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev did in Britain when they bought first the Evening Standard and later The Independent – then the scale of your ambitions can shift dramatically
Episode 4: Doubling down
Years of warnings about Russia’s intentions had gone unheeded; discounted as scaremongering. But then came the invasion of Crimea, and the end of any doubts. In spite of it all, the Lebedevs’ ascent in London continued, and so did the extraordinary parties
Episode 5: A blind eye
The Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament produced a report into Russian interference in British democracy. Boris Johnson saw it before his general election landslide in 2019. But his government went out of its way to make sure it didn’t see the light of day until long after the election had been fought and won
Episode 6: Lord of the spies
It’s no secret that political patronage can get you a place in the House of Lords. But even people who understand the system well – even peers themselves – were appalled when Boris Johnson decided to extend his patronage to Evgeny Lebedev.
Londongrad: The Johnson Affair
A former KGB officer, Britain’s foreign secretary – and a potential national security breach