High life

I offered Zac Goldsmith £50 to stay 20 feet away from me

17 October 2015

9:00 AM

17 October 2015

9:00 AM

I once tried to bribe Zac Goldsmith with a £50 note, but he didn’t bite even back then. He was about 15 years old, and the reason for the hush money was pure self-preservation. He was already good-looking and I knew he’d be even more so at 20, so I offered him 50 quid to stay 20 feet away from me for the next 15 years if he saw me talking to a girl. My bribe worked with his younger brother Ben, who grabbed the loot and never kept his side of the bargain. That was in 1997, when Jimmy Goldsmith formed the Referendum party and I covered its first conference as Atticus in the Sunday Times. (Jimmy got very suspicious when he saw money being given to young Ben, until I told him the reason. He then advised Ben to take the money and ignore the deal.)

I’ve always thought that Jimmy’s idea of offering the British people a vote on whether to stay in or out of Europe was a brilliant democratic coup, except that it didn’t best please the politicians and the media. Eighteen years later, we’re right back where we were. Except that we know a bit more about how deeply rotten and undemocratic Brussels really is. I went down to Putney with Jimmy, Zac and Jemima for the ’97 election-night results. When David Mellor got up to concede defeat to Labour, he turned instead against Jimmy, repeating the world ‘hacienda’ time and again. I was slightly under the weather, and yelled a horrible insult at him. I believe it made Zac flinch. Perhaps I was wrong, but hearing Mellor echo Michael Heseltine’s class-warfare slur against Jimmy outraged me. Especially as Jimmy was as self-made as Hezza and Mellor, except that he bought far better furniture than they did.


But I am writing about Zac, not Jimmy. A columnist recently opined that Zac sounds American with a bit of St Tropez thrown in. I guess I must be going deaf because Zac sounds pretty English to me, and if memory serves, I don’t think he’s ever been to St Tropez. (He’s a Cornwall person.) But if one doesn’t print lies about someone with inherited wealth, very good looks and not a small amount of intelligence, who does one print lies about? Integrity is not a word we usually associate with politicians — or journalists, for that matter — but if I had to choose a word that sums Zac up, it would be the i-word.

One can tell a lot about a man by playing poker with him — or cricket or even tennis. I’ve played all three with Zac, and he’s very tough when it comes to poker but rarely bluffs. I’ve never won a hand against him because all I do is bluff, and he seems to know it every time. On the cricket ground, he’s, well, cricket. Ditto with tennis. But it was his unsuccessful recall motion that best illustrates Zac’s integrity. That was an effort to hold MPs to account, and it was defeated because it was a bit like asking a crime syndicate to report to the police any crimes committed by its members.

Friendship aside, the reason Zac would make a great mayor is that he’s fiscally and socially liberal, and a devoted environmentalist. A true green, with none of that wild and crazy stuff, Zac wants to turn London into a Singapore-like city where one can breathe healthy air. But knowing trade unions and special interest groups, he’s got a tough road ahead. Real ecological changes will be allowed over their dead bodies. London’s air is among the worst in Europe, and Zac has some very good plans to improve it. The unions, on the other hand, will pour lotsa moolah into Sadiq Khan’s campaign. Zac’s rival has the same name as his ex-brother-in-law, and I hope that Imran will come west when the time is near and speak truth to the Pakistani powers that be. Voting for someone because his name is Khan would not serve the Pakistani community one bit. It would be a useless exercise in chauvinism and nothing more. More ugly high-risers, worse air, higher taxes; we all know the score. Zac believes that politicians disrespect people and communities. He wants city villages instead of dehumanising council estates. I am sure that Sadiq Khan is a decent man, but he’s in over his head. Zac knows the major institutional investors who can build affordable homes. At present, great parts of London are empty, built purely for speculation, which causes great resentment. I am someone who can afford to live anywhere I please, yet I find myself really angry when I see parts of Kensington and Chelsea, built and bought by speculators, totally dark at night. Imagine what that does to hard-working people without houses.

A lady journalist wrote that ‘wealth’s greatest gift is dignity’. A rich man is very unlikely to steal or be corrupt. I’m not so sure. More rich people are corrupt than poor ones. I had one business transaction with Zac and it went as follows: he gave me first choice. Not many would do that. He has also done that to others. There is a backdrop of widespread dismay with our political class. Come next May, I hope Londoners will vote Goldsmith. I for one will come back, and I hope that’s not a vote loser. Go, Goldsmith.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    He doesn’t have a chance, and an endorsement by another person who is wealthy solely because of his daddy doesn’t help.

  • Sean Grainger

    Even with the Tories’ track record of mismanagement it beggars belief the party has nominated the halfwit.

    • plainsdrifter

      After Labour’s risible election of Jeremy Corbyn, a Marxist of supreme mediocrity, that is one of the most crass remarks I have ever read.

  • Ossian Shine

    It is not Singapore’s fault that the Indonesians are burning forests shrouding the city-state in choking haze, but still, I wouldn’t hold Sing up as an example of breathing healthy air…

  • davidshort10

    Does this man have nothing better to do than go around former Cabinet ministers’ homes, looking at their furniture in order to compare it with that of a rabidly right-wing megalomaniac friend?

    • Sanctimony

      Megalomanic is the correct adjective, I believe…

      • Standish79

        What about megalomaniacal, just for fun?

  • Mnestheus

    The Climate Wars could be brought to a civilized conclusion if decided by a Marylebone test between Zac’s ecoeleven and Monckton and Lawson’s lot.

  • Sanctimony

    Sometimes Taki’s saccharine sycophancy can become just a little bit too cloying…. his quite obvious inferiority complex manifests itself weekly in his gushing outpourings in homage to those he considers well-bred, handsome or beautiful… it can all become a little tedious and repetitive…

    I remember, aeons ago, when he was considering or had bought a pile in the shires, he pleaded with all his friends and hangers-on as to whether they considered the house was worthy of a ‘gentleman’… one would only expect such insecurity from an arriviste from the Levant…

    Nevertheless, his scribblings usually afford some mirth…

  • Alex Christie
  • dwarfpoo

    I admire Zac for having the gonads + asking questions regarding the cover up of child abuse. Zac is in a lucky position to have the finanacial stability to take the “hit”. He is now under pressure to withdraw from the mayorial race.

  • Faith

    I admire Zac and Tom Watson for asking questions about child abuse. If it were not for these two individuals, two men would not be behind bars today.

  • OscarJones

    Oh lovely. Singapore- the most boring city on the planet. If that’s what Goldsmith has in store then flee London now. Just because you can eat your dinner off the pavement does not make a city an exciting place to be. But Taki does make every article amusing even when you disagree with everything he says. Which is all the time.

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