The Wallfashion Bureau, a gaggle representing the British wallpaper trade, declared itself insulted. Derry Irvine, the primary of Tony Blair’s lord chancellors, had defended the expenditure of £59,000 on handmade wallpaper on the grounds that “you might be speaking about high quality supplies that are succesful of lasting for 60 or 70 years. You aren’t speaking about one thing down at the DIY retailer that may collapse after a yr or so.”
“As an trade,” riposted the bureau’s Terry Langstroth, “we produce high-quality merchandise which may price a fraction of the worth he’s paying.”
This was in 1998, however the reminiscences of Irvine’s wallpaper, half of a £650,000 makeover of his official condo within the Home of Lords, have since haunted the physique politic. It makes modest by comparability the £200,000 that Carrie Symonds is reportedly spending on the flat she shares with Boris Johnson in Downing Road. Not that the prime minister will see it that method: his downside is that the Johnson-Symonds household finances is due to take most of the hit. Irvine’s interiors had been funded by the taxpayer.
So he has apparently floated the concept of organising a charity, whereby pleasant donors can get him out of the monetary gap created by the house enhancements. It appears to be vaguely modelled on the White Home Historic Affiliation, a privately funded not-for-profit organisation arrange by Jackie Kennedy in 1961, whose mission is to “shield, protect, and supply public entry to the wealthy historical past of America’s Government Mansion”. It often spends about $1m to $2m per yr on renovating the White Home.
As with so many Johnson wheezes, his thought stinks. There’s the potential for blatant conflicts of curiosity – who’s to consider, in a world the place there are not any free lunches, that there shall be no quid professional quo for whoever subsidises what unnamed “pals” name Symonds’ “beautiful style … traditional, beautiful, trendy and stylish”? Or, as Johnson is claimed to have put it, her “completely out of management” expenditure.
It will even be a stretch to justify the expenditure on heritage grounds, as Irvine did. He might declare that solely wallpaper of this specification would respect the architectural masterpiece during which it was hung, the Palace of Westminster. Melania Trump might justify for comparable causes the $300,000 renewal of the crimson Scalamandré silk partitions within the White Home’s Pink Room. However there’s no proof that the Symonds suite, regardless that it’s stated to have been “impressed” by the “superstar eco-designer” Lulu Lytle, will make a comparable contribution to design historical past.
The nation, within the kind of some suitably deferential publication, has but to be invited into the new-look house of Boris, Carrie and little Wilfred, so it’s arduous to examine their furnishings with the chartreuse-yellow couch on which Samantha Cameron was pictured chatting to Michelle Obama, or the stolid gray merchandise on which Gordon Brown used to perch. We all know little greater than that it is going to be totally different from the “John Lewis” style of the previous occupants Theresa and Philip Might.
In any other case we’ve got to depend on some speculative articles on the inspirational Lytle. She likes to “combine old school glamour with daring, fashionable colors”, in accordance to the Night Customary. Above all, she likes rattan, a fabric the article mentions by identify 12 instances – she is certainly “the saviour of British rattan”. There’ll be no equal of Irvine’s offence to the wallpaper trade, then, rattan-wise.
It can in all probability prove to be a notch extra hanging than the interiors of earlier incumbents. This isn’t saying a lot, as prime ministers and their spouses at all times have to teeter agonisingly between upholding the dignity of their workplace and searching one thing like unusual individuals who don’t get to spend dollops of taxpayers’ cash on their houses. These Cameron interiors, for instance, mixed a reasonably high-end kitchen and an Arco lamp – a design traditional from 1962 – with Ikea cupboards and plain cabinets stacked with DVDs.
The query of the ministerial lodging occupies the difficult border territory between their non-public and their public personas. Margaret Thatcher was reluctant to let her chancellor Geoffrey Howe exchange the “antediluvian” kitchen in 11 Downing Road, regardless that she would later have the classicist architect Quinlan Terry transform the extra ceremonial areas of No 10 with decorative plasterwork within the fashion of Inigo Jones. The distinction between the 2 might need been a mirrored image of her growing grandiosity, but additionally of a distinction between the private world of Howe’s kitchen and the official sphere of the Terry salons.
There are, in reality, sane preparations for coping with these points: prime ministers get to spend £30,000 of public cash on their official lodging, after which they’ve to fund enhancements themselves, because the Camerons did. The query has solely develop into problematic due to the expense of Symonds’ rattan-tastic style mixed with the injury accomplished to Johnson’s funds by his divorce and his loss of a profitable newspaper column, collectively along with his consequent try to increase money with a blatantly self-serving knock-off of Jackie Kennedy’s invention.
All of this shall be bemusing and amusing to the Erdogans and Putins who may in the future be entertained at Downing Road, who suppose nothing of spending a lot higher quantities on their lavish water-side palaces. Britain could be grateful that our leaders aren’t at their degree but. However Johnson’s bogus charity is a step of their course.