10 Interesting Facts about the Bullingdon Club, Oxford's Ugly Secret

The Bullingdon Club, Oxford, 1987. Boris Johnson is seated third at the front, David Cameron second from left at rear. Daily Telegraph.

Boris, Dave, and George: The Power of Networking

If you assumed that the Bullingdon’s power had waned since the aforementioned were elected, you’re in for a shock.  In 2008, the Bullingdon class of 1987 reunited at the Millbank Tower, Westminster, to raise funds for one of its most illustrious members, Boris Johnson, who at the time was running for Mayor of London. Amongst the assembled group were Sebastian Grigg, chief of UK investment banking at Credit Suisse, along with David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and readying for the 2010 general election. Boris’s mayoral campaign was successful, and David Cameron was elected Prime Minister in 2010.

The intimate network of the Bullingdon remains a force in UK politics, as the 2008 meeting demonstrates. Remember the three members who escaped from the police after vandalising a restaurant in 1987? Two of the young men ensconced in shrubbery were Boris Johnson and David Cameron. Mutual indiscretion clearly forges strong bonds, and it is theorised that the club’s arbitrary criminal acts are to ensure that members can be cajoled and blackmailed by one another. Indeed, when Cameron came to assemble his cabinet, he chose as his chancellor George Osborne, another Bullingdon alumnus, and welcomed Boris too in 2015.

Bullingdon connections got Boris into power, and along with Jonathan Ford, a former member and editor of the Financial Times, he was instrumental in Cameron becoming Tory leader and eventually Prime Minister. If the thought of three Bullingdon men more or less running the country shocks you, it gets worse. Boris has been publically observed to greet other former Bullingdon members with a bellow of ‘Buller, Buller, Buller’ and a laddish embrace and, along with Osborne, is known to have attended Bullingdon events in recent years. Boris is also swift to remind members of their vow of omertà.

Although their Bullingdon past has been fundamental to their rise to power, all three men have tried to distance themselves from the club. Publication of the photo above, and another of the younger Osborne in 1992, was suppressed for as long as possible by the Conservative Party. Cameron’s attempts to play down his involvement with the Bullingdon must be offset with the fact that he prepared for becoming Prime Minister by serving as club president from 1988. Even Boris has publically criticised the club, calling the notorious photo ‘a truly shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness, and twittishness’.

Although Cameron and Osborne have now left politics, there are, at present, two members of the Bullingdon in the Conservative cabinet: Boris, now Foreign Secretary (mind-boggling, given his famous xenophobia), and his younger brother Jo Johnson, the Transport Minister. Jo was in the Bullingdon at the same time as George Osborne, and they remain close friends. Buller-ties, however, are not indissoluble. Boris and Cameron differed on Brexit, with the latter in favour of EU membership, and Boris an outspoken campaigner for the Leave campaign. After the vote, Cameron resigned, leaving Boris to mount an unsuccessful leadership campaign of his own.