Der Spiegel: Decadence and Madness at the Top: Inside Britain’s Secretive Bullingdon Club

Boris johnson
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From Spiegel Online:

They drink heavily, shatter champagne flutes and smash furniture — before moving on to positions of leadership. The elite Bullingdon Club is an exclusive haven for Britain’s rich and powerful. But members don’t like to talk about it.

To understand England’s elite, it helps to go back in time, to the summer of 1987. A pack of bow-tied young men dressed in midnight blue tails with brass buttons and cream-colored silk lapels are stumbling through the streets of Oxford after one of their dinners, tipsy on champagne and in a boisterous mood. None of them is older than 24. One of them hits upon the idea of visiting a fellow student — and a short time later, a flowerpot flies through a restaurant window and a police car arrives. It is a night that the entire country will still be talking about decades later.

Four members of the group flee to the nearby Botanical Garden and hide behind a hedge. They lie on the ground for several minutes, says one of the men who was there. They are determined not to be caught, four young men dressed in tails, lying on their stomachs in the grass. Once again, they have managed to escape unscathed.

The episode says a lot about the thin layer of the chosen few who would be running the country one day. They are members of the Bullingdon Club in Oxford, a gathering place for the country’s young elites, people who know that they are destined to make it to the very top. One of the four men in the grass is Boris Johnson, who will later become the mayor of London. Another is David Cameron, currently residing at No. 10 Downing Street. The two others are sons of prominent members of the financial world and now part of London’s moneyed aristocracy themselves.

Cameron would later deny that he was involved in the escapade on that summer night in 1987, even though two of his friends at the time insist he was there. Johnson, on the other hand, boasted that he spent several hours in prison that night.

The truth about the Bullingdon Club is probably somewhere in the middle, between exaggeration and denial. Rarely have so many former members of the club held key positions in British society as they do today. The club became a gathering place for the male establishment, and its members now inhabit the top floors of banks, government ministries, law firms and newspaper publishing companies. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was also a member.

Unchanged for Centuries

The Bullingdon and other dinner clubs are seeds of power in the United Kingdom, and not just because membership provides influence. Members also gain access to a group of like-minded individuals who will later assume leading roles — allies for life, just as it has always been.

Read more of Christoph Scheuermann’s piece here.