I am in Manchester for the Tories, which everyone reminds me is an “away fixture” for me this year. It’s chilly and blowy in what Ruth Davidson, the conference darling and leader of the Scottish Conservatives, calls “the southern powerhouse”, so I am in my bright pink coat (think Hubba Bubba bubble gum on steroids). It’s a statement, but not quite as attention-grabbing as MailOnline’s Katie Hopkins, who did her event in a plunging white wedding dress, complete with a train.
I was a bit anxious about coming (my paper, the Mail on Sunday, generously hosts me) but nobody has yet asked me what I’m doing here, or even teased me about joining the Lib Dems, reminding me of nanny’s remark to a quivering charge with the yips before a grand social function: “Nobody will be looking at you, dear.” Never a truer word for #CPC2017.
Speaking of nanny: on arrival, I headed up to my room in the Radisson Blu to dump my bag. The lift doors opened on the fourth floor to a heaving mass of navy suits and pearls and lanyards, with people almost spilling into my lift from the corridor, such was the crush. I had to fight my way out.
“What’s going on?” I ask, presuming it might be an event involving my elder brother. Everyone looks at me as if I really hadn’t got the memo at all, and choruses like drilled disciples: “The Leave Means Leave event with Jacob Rees-Mogg!”
I march up to the front with another journalist, Isabel Oakeshott (the one who wrote the book about David Cameron and the pig) and we both try to penetrate the sold-out event, for which star-struck Moggmaniacs have clearly been camping overnight, by name-dropping our papers. This does not prove the open sesame we were hoping for. “Tickets only,” says the security man, barring our entry. “Or you can watch the live stream we’ve set up downstairs.”
Blimey! It’s got to the stage where they’re live-streaming JRM’s fringe events on Brexit (“followed by wine and canapés”, according to the programme) like a royal wedding. A year really is a Jurassic age in politics.
My brother Leo – the second of my four Jo-bros – has just turned 50. By tradition, all the siblings club together for the main present. For his, Boris got a tennis machine that spits balls over the net called “the Clegger”, after the one used by Cameron at Chequers (“I chillax by thrashing the Clegger,” DC said). I got a Big Green Egg barbecue, the ne plus ultra of boys’ toys when it comes to cook-outs, despite the new trend for “cave-manning”, in which you just chuck the steaks and prawns straight on to the embers.
Leo lives the good life in the People’s Republic of Brent. He has his own allotment, which he shares with Syrian refugees, makes his own beer and wine from local grapes and hops, and has bought permission to build a house on a remote Greek island… so we all thought an olive press would be perfect for his “main”.
After secret conferral with his wife, Taies – an expert on post-conflict resolution for the World Bank – it turns out that he wants a moped. But in Greece. My brother Jo nobly took on the challenge of sourcing a 125cc moped, and we all made the requisite transfers.
As far as I’m concerned, as a bright red scooter awaits collection on a windswept island in the Cyclades, he is honour-bound to crack on with the villa. And a pool, please. If Leo builds it, we will most certainly come.
I hate it when things go wrong and people say, “Ah, well, at least you can get a column out of it” – even if they’re right, as this somehow makes it worse. I also hate it when some chateau-bottled bore pauses in mid-flow and says, “Now, promise me you won’t write anything about this, will you?” It is an iron-clad rule that only people who have never said anything interesting in their whole lives ever say this to journalists.
As a reaction to this, I’m keeping a diary and I can write whatever I like in it, without fear or favour. Andrew Roberts asked me how I wrote mine. I told him. He shook his head. “Never, ever, put anything online,” he said. “Because of the Foreign Secretary, think about it – the Russians are bound to be reading your emails and will have been for ages. Only pen and paper,” he admonished me. “Keep it locked and hidden.”
Roberts – a well-known name-dropper as well as diarist – continued: “There was once a royal dinner with Antony Beevor, Antonia Fraser and another diarist, and someone suggested that we all put in our diaries that a waiter entered in the nude, and in a hundred years’ time it would become ‘true’, but we decided that as historians we simply couldn’t.”
The truth is, though, that putting things on social media is becoming far more dangerous. My Instagram feed has been plundered for picture stories in the papers, even though it’s private. So I’ve had to go through my followers and do a cull of any who work for newspapers.
I don’t even allow the sainted Geordie Greig, my editor at the MoS, to follow me, which is probably a good thing as someone had commented on a post from Nantucket this August: “Where are you now??! You take more holidays than Princess Eugenie!!” The problem is our proprietress, Claudia (Lady) Rothermere, follows me, too – and I’m far too terrified to cull her.
Dave C was introduced to my sister Julia a while back. “No! Not another one!!” the then PM gasped, like Brenda from Bristol when informed of supernumerary plebiscites. “How many more of you Johnsons are there?” Julia introduced him to Max. Brother Max is 6ft 5in and very blond. We’re like rats, basically. In London, you’re never more than a few feet from at least two Johnsons.
Rachel Johnson is a columnist on the Mail on Sunday
This article appears in the 04 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, How the rich got richer