Friday, July 15, 2011

"Chippy" will never seem the same

SO Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade) has gone. Quit as chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International within a week of the News of the World which she used to edit having bit the dust. Someone said then that Murdoch had got rid of the wrong red-top.

CHIPPING NORTON, above. Locals would prefer it wasn't associated with the wrong kind of celebrity.

Momentarily relief from headlines for Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Paul Stephenson, though he was reportedly facing questions from Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson, about his hiring of former News of the World executive Neil Wallis as a £ 1,000 a day personal media advisor.

Close: David Cameron and Christopher Shale at an event this month
CAMERON with Christopher Shale, who warned
that Tories came across as "always on the take".
Inquest on the West Oxfordshire Tory chairman
has been adjourned

This comes after reports that senior officers had dinner with News International people they were supposed to be investigating. And that among those whose 'phones were hacked were relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead by police at Stockwell station. We can get the picture.

Neil Wallis, 60, was arrested yesterday by police investigating the 'phone hacking scandal, The Evening Standard said that Wallis's company, Chamy Media, through which he had been employed by the Met , was struck off the companies register two months ago for failing to file any documents since it was set up in 2009..

'Downing Street sources said Mr Cameron believes Sir Paul has "urgent questions to answer" and is angry the Met chief failed to inform him about Mr Wallis's employment when they met for crisis talks at No 10 earlier this week'.

Is that the sound of spin we hear? Cameron's own former press aide Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor, was arrested a week ago, leaving the prime minister to face questions over why he had hired Coulson in 2007, despite knowing that one of his journalists had been jailed for hacking into voicemails. Coulson was arrested on suspicion of conspiring in the illegal practice.

As for blustering Boris, he originally dismissed the 'phone hacking row as "politically motivated codswallop". Having kept up his wining-and-dining with James
Murdoch, he was counting no doubt on continued support for his re-election from Rebecca Wade and News International, before he discovered a sense of outrage at the media empire's excesses.

For David Cameron this affair has come close to home, personally and geographically as well as politically. Several papers have been talking about the "Chipping Norton Set", arousing amusement and then annoyance among locals in this Cotswold market town, which comes under Cameron's Witney, West Oxfordshire constituency. Rebekah Wade moved into the area with second husband Charlie Brooks. Cameron was at their wedding, as were Murdoch's son in law Matthew Freud, and broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson.

'Neighbours talk of a barbecue a few weeks ago where the alcohol flowed, and David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks are known to be regular visitors at each other's houses, "forever popping round for supper", according to one friend. They are known to have had dinner with each other at least once over Christmas (with James Murdoch), and were seen together at a drinks party in a neighbouring manor house on Boxing Day, in defiance of those who thought the PM should not get too close to representatives of a company seeking to take over BSkyB.

Of big houses, there is no shortage. But in the past decade, the mix of occupants has changed from nobs and bankers to include a mix of celebrities and politicos. When Cameron came to the area 10 years ago, he rented a cottage from Lord Chadlington, the brother of John Gummer, before buying a farmhouse in the hamlet of Dean when he won the seat of Witney. Matthew Freud and Elisabeth Murdoch began renting China Corner from the Duke of Marlborough's Blenheim Palace estate, before buying Burford Priory for £6m three years ago. Rebekah Wade followed suit, renting at Blenheim before moving in with her new husband, Charlie Brooks (part of a long-established Cotswold family and a friend of Cameron's brother, Alex), to his converted barn between Sarsden and Churchill.

It was at the end of June that an inquest was adjourned on the chairman of West Oxfordshire Conservative Association, Christopher Shale, 56, who had been found dead in a mobile toilet at the Glastonbury rock festival. Shale, a former Army officer, and managing director of a business supply company, had been praised by Cameron for his "massive contribution to the Conservative Party, both locally and nationally". Having done aid work in Rwanda, and a director of the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, Chistopher Shale was seen as a big help to Cameron's 'Big Society' policy. He lived in Over Worton, a village near Chipping Norton, but there has been no suggestion that he was part of the Chipping Norton Set.

In fact, just before taking his family to Glastonbury he had produced a memo for Cameron warning that the Conservative Party, specifically in West Oxfordshire, came across to the public as "graceless, voracious, crass, always on the take". He reportedly died of a massive heart attack shortly after taking a 'phone call from Downing Street, concerned that his report had been leaked to the press.

One of the strongest attack on Cameron and his friends has come from the Tory Daily Telegraph:

"Mr Cameron allowed himself to be drawn into a social coterie in which no respectable person, let alone a British prime minister, should be seen dead. It was called the Chipping Norton set, an incestuous collection of louche, affluent, power-hungry and amoral Londoners, located in and around the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire constituency. Brooks and her husband, the former racing trainer Charlie Brooks, live in a house scarcely a mile from David and Samantha Cameron’s constituency home. The two couples meet frequently, and have continued to do so long after the phone hacking scandal became well known.

PR fixer Matthew Freud, married to Mr Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, is another member of this Chipping Norton set. When Mr Cameron bumped into Freud at Rebekah Brooks’s wedding two years ago, he and Mr Freud greeted each other with exuberant high-fives to signal their exclusive friendship.

The Prime Minister cannot claim in defence that he was naively drawn in to this lethal circle. He was warned – many times. Shortly before the last election he was explicitly told about the company he was keeping..."

Pity we didn't hear more about this before the election. Still, it looks like Cameron's days are numbered, though we dread to think whom the Tories might want to put in his place.

Meanwhile, my sympathies go out to the good folk of Chipping Norton, who are not all Tories, let alone associates of the coterie. Before all this, the town's most famous villain was James Hinde, a notorious highwayman, executed in 1652. Charles Stewart Parnell went to school in Chipping Norton, going on to become an Irish MP, patriot and reformer, "the un-crowned King of Ireland" before running fowl of the press. In 1873, sixteen women were convicted at nearby Ascott under Wychwood, some of them sentenced to hard labour, for interfering with scabs in a farm workers' strike. In 1913-14 there was an eight-month long strike by workers at the Bliss tweed mill, now converted to yuppie flats advertising the chance to "live in Chipping Norton despite the recession".

Ronnie Barker ran an antique shop in Chippy after retirement, and Who drummer Keith Moon ran the Crown and Cushion on the High Street. I have been able to enjoy a good pint in more than one hostelry in Chippy myself, though thankfully I did not encounter any of the Chipping Norton Set. Somehow it will never seem the same.

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At 9:19 AM, Blogger dave_bruce said...

Excellent piece, Charlie.

At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Chippyites don't really care about the 'set' you know, and there's a local outfit 'the CN Tea-set' that's launched on the back of the name.

Actually, love or love his politics, DC's not bad as MPs go. He gave my godson several valuable weeks student experience in the House and Constituency when requested.


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