Author: By Andy McSmith, Nigel Morris and Michael Savage
Sir Fred, who resigned last October shortly before the RBS collapsed with debts of more than £24bn, visited Chequers with his wife, Lady Joyce, earlier in 2008. Yesterday, Downing Street released a glittering list of the rich and famous who have been Gordon and Sarah Brown’s guests at the Prime Minister’s country residence in a series of announcements about the cost of running the Government.
Sir Victor Blank and Eric Daniels, chairman and chief executive of Lloyds banking group, and their wives were also on the guest list. Sir Victor was forced to stand down in May after it emerged Lloyds had made crippling losses from its merger with HBOS the previous September.
Gordon and Sarah Brown’s hospitality bill almost doubled in one year. In 2007-8, they spent a modest £78,900 on guests including only a few names from showbusiness, but a weighty contingent of businessmen, writers, architects and others from less glamorous professions. But in 2008-9, as Gordon’s political fortunes slumped, the bill for hospitality at Chequers and 10 Downing Street soared to £136,000.
Fine dining with Kate
Among the 205 guests invited to Chequers during the year was a galaxy of television stars, such as Matt Lucas and David Walliams, of Little Britain fame ? but noticeably did not include a single trade union leader.
Kate Garraway, the former GMTV presenter, received an invitation, and brought her husband, the former Labour spin doctor Derek Draper.
Two other GMTV presenters, Lorraine Kelly and Penny Smith, were also invited. So was Lisa Aziz, presenter of ITV’s West Country Tonight, who is currently suspended because of a dispute over her expenses. She is reputedly accused of seven wrong claims, including £5.75 for cleaning a child’s top.
Other guests were the fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, the writer Bill Bryson, the comedians Jimmy Carr and Bruce Forsyth, the actors Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, the opera diva Lesley Garrett, the children’s poet laureate Michael Rosen, the Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, and the football commentator John Motson. An unusually large number of journalists also received invitations, suggesting that Mr Brown has been working hard on improving relations with the press. They include Colin Myler, the editor of the News of the World who was a central figure in the privacy case brought by the Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, and Will Lewis, editor of the Daily Telegraph, whose newspaper obtained a leaked list of MPs’ expenses.
Ministers racked up a bill of £9.4m in foreign trips, a rise of almost 80 per cent on the previous year, despite the recession. The Prime Minister alone spent £4.6m globetrotting. Many trips were made to build support for the G20 summit, which he hosted in London in April.
The Prime Minister’s trip to the US, where he met President Obama in March, cost almost £290,000. However, his most expensive outing came later that month, when he spent £743,341 preparing for his G20 summit by visiting Strasbourg, France, the US, Brazil and Chile. He also spent £500,000 on a trip to Asia in August that included a stop off at the Beijing Olympics.
He was not the only minister to take in a world-class sporting occasion. Both the then Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, and his minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, spend £4,000 to attend the Champions League final in Moscow last May. Mr Sutcliffe also attended the Euro 2008 Championships.
Gifts for Gordon
From briefcases, bowls and gold coins to rugs, pens and hampers, Gordon Brown returned from his travels bearing armfuls of presents.
He declared 38 gifts ? the vast majority of them from foreign leaders. But there was no mention of the DVD boxset of classic American movies he received from President Obama in March ? because it was valued at below the £140 threshold over which gifts have to be registered.
More generous was Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, who three times gave Mr Brown a box of fine silk ties. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, lavished four presents on him over the 12 months ? wine (twice), glassware and, less conventionally, an eBook reading device.
All his gifts have gone in store in Downing Street, apart from hampers and wine which have either been used for entertaining or donated to charity.
While he was Business Secretary, John Hutton was given an engraved silver pocket watch from the former US President George Bush.
Gordon or Sarah Brown hosted no fewer than 34 receptions for charity in Downing Street, all paid for by the charities involved. The biggest was for London Fashion Week, in September, with 200 guests. In addition, there were 50 receptions for other good causes at which either the Prime Minister or his wife played host. Nearly all were in Downing Street, though some had to be moved to other venues to accommodate the numbers ? such as the huge reception for 670 guests held in Lancaster House in October as part of the preparations for the London Olympics.
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