The Daily Mail says today that Boris Johnson is “under pressure to come clean about his contacts” with Richard Desmond, would-be developer of the Westferry Printworks site, “after it was revealed the pair spoke at a fundraising dinner”. The dinner in question was the one that took place at the Savoy last November to raise money for the Conservative Party at which Desmond, formerly the publisher of the Daily Express and various “top shelf” magazines, sat at the same table as communities secretary Robert Jenrick and reportedly showed him a video of his plans for the controversial Westferry Printworks site.
A photo from that occasion has emerged of Johnson with his arm round Desmond’s shoulders. And, in fact, their friendliness goes back a long way, certainly as far back as the beginning of Johnson’s eight years as London Mayor, from 2008-2016. It was right at the end of that period that Johnson, in the form of his mayoral chief of staff and deputy mayor for planning Sir Edward Lister, gave Desmond a green light for an earlier version of his Westferry plans. Sir Edward is now part of Johnson’s Number 10 team and, according to the Mail, was another attendee at the Savoy dinner.
An outline of the relationship between Desmond and Johnson during the latter’s City Hall years is easy to find. When Johnson was running for Mayor in 2008 he spoke a lot about setting up a charity to support disadvantaged London children. The Mayor’s Fund for London was duly launched in April 2009 and its first annual report, published in March 2010, thanked a list of people and organisations for their support with securing commitments to the Fund totalling £7 million. The list included Richard Desmond. See excerpt below.
Desmond was later described as being “among major donors” to the Fund.
In January 2014, Johnson and Desmond visited Shadwell together. The East London Advertiser said “Mr Desmond used the trip to announce £10 million of funding from his group The Health Lottery to support London community health charities by 2016” (three years earlier Desmond’s lottery, run by his Northern & Shell company, had been criticised by a voluntary sector chief executive). Johnson and Desmond were photographed playing with children on a swing. Desmond mentioned the project in an interview that February.
In September 2014, City AM reported that Desmond attended a Mayor’s Fund charity breakfast with Johnson held at City Hall, and just before Christmas that year Desmond was photographed with Johnson and others blowing out candles on a birthday cake at a fifth anniversary party for the Fund. The event was also covered by the Express, which Desmond then still owned.
The Mayor’s Fund for London still exists and has a City Hall address. For a while in the early days of Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty the attention of visitors to City Hall was drawn to it as they queued to pass through security, and Mayor Khan is now its patron, succeeding Johnson in that role. An independent charity, the Mayor’s Fund For London now describes its programmes as “pan-London“. There appears to be no mention of Richard Desmond on its website.
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