“Playboy millionaire” Luke Johnson was an adviser to Editorial Intelligence (shoving off in 2007). He managed to get himself appointed as Chairman of Channel 4 with a salary of £67,500 a year. The appointment was arranged by Tessa Jowell who’s inside knowledge of how the media works comes from her connections to Silvio Berlusconi. Traders and analysts alike were left speechless as Ofcom, the ‘regulator’ of the media, hailed the entrepreneur’s “passion for public service broadcasting”.
Critics were amazed because of Johnson’s meagre track record in broadcasting and his reputation for being curt and abrasive with journalists. After Oxford he began with the Advertising Agency BMP, then as a media analyst (other reports say stockbroking analyst) with merchant bankers Kleinwort Benson. As the Chairman of Signature Restaurants (formerly Belgo Group, the business behind overpriced London restaurants such as The Ivy and Le Caprice) he became a figure of fun when he agreed, despite warnings from colleagues, to become a waiter as part of the ‘Back to the Floor’ TV show.
“After agreeing to take part in a BBC TV series on bosses working at the sharp end of their businesses. Luke Johnson was seen to rip off his microphone, told the film crew to “stick your TV programme” and stormed out of the kitchen. He also called the head chef a “whinger” at the Belgo Central restaurant in Covent Garden.”
What’s the point in going to Oxford and having all that money if you can’t bark out orders at the plebs forced to work for a living? But what is the point in him running a TV station given over to ‘Reality TV’ when he would prefer it if they were shoved somewhere with (one would presume) very low audience figures indeed?
Other directorships include the more down market PizzaExpress, My Kinda Town, American Port Services, Abacus Recruitment, Whittards of Chelsea and logistics business Nightfreight. He was the founder of an investment trust, Intrinsic Value, venture capitalists VCT and internet incubator fund NewMedia Spark. Which has possibly the most artless and annoying web site in the world. He is also a Governor of the London Institute, which represents five art and design Colleges.
Johnson is thought to have fallen out with his former executives at PizzaExpress including Hugh Osmond, his friend from university and the two goad and taunt each other to this day.
Johnson is an occasional columnist for The Sunday Telegraph and his efforts are an exercise in mystifying capitalism Punting ‘The Psychic Investor’ — sort of day time TV gibberish for those looking for the killer formula for getting rich quick — the fact that big investments might be predicated on child slave labour in some copper mine in Africa is discreetly ignored, Hey, no one really knows how it all works:
“Frequently valuations and price movements have been impossible to justify on any sane basis…. As John Maynard Keynes once remarked: “Money is one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological properties which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.””
Typically the columns will review some on-the-make finance ‘guru’s’ collection of witless aphorism which bathe the vile snake pit of chicanery and inside information involved in City trading in soft soap. Ultimately people like Johnson are watched for what they do rather than what they say — such as when he picked up 750,000 shares in insurance group LIMIT which has been the subject of take-over speculation.
Johnson is a huge fan of globalisation in promoting ‘development’:
“Capitalism gives ordinary people hope — they too can become prosperous with hard work and a little luck. Capitalism breeds peace, because nations that trade together have too much to lose by fighting. For the proof of the last assertion, it is worth referring to the Human Security Report, a definitive study of world-wide conflicts published last year by the OUP. It documents the dramatic but largely unknown decline in the numbers of wars, genocides and human rights abuses over the past decade or so.”
Ardent capitalists have seized on this report, which was funded by five national governments and the Rockefeller Foundation. It says it is all the media’s fault for showing the bad side of things (watch out C4 news) and since the lapse in the cold war, “Washington and Moscow stopped fueling “proxy wars” in the developing world,” according to its author, Andrew Mack, former director of strategic planning in the executive office of troubled UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
How did Mack provide such a Enron-like statistical wonder? Easy: that which is conveniently designated as ‘international terrorism’ has been ruled out of the equation. So we can all crack on with merciless globalisation. The problems in untangling Afghanistan in the 80s and the trail of US support of the Mujahideen which led to Al-Qaeda can just be ignored. Also think of the ‘peace’ that Iraq suffered from 1991 till the invasion — that was probably worse than many wars. The Human Security Report smacks of propaganda.
Think Tank land
This loquacious rabidity might remind people of someone else, which we’ll get to later. Johnson was a speaker at the Bruges Group along with ‘the Hudson Institute’s’ Dr Irwin Stelzer (who these days argues for a kind of Keynesian donations to huge financial conglomorates who blew it), here Johnson was billed as the writer of ‘the acclaimed TaxPayers’ Alliance publication, The Bumper Book of Government Waste’, although he merely contributed the introduction. The pair repeated the double act at the Adam Smith institute.
Although he has an celebrated aversion to manual labour himself, Johnson is huge fan of China where “the Chinese work 24-7.” Yeah, and those working conditions are replicated in the dark side of the food industry such as the drowning of the cockle-pickers in Morecambe bay. While the Chinese neither eat, sleep or go to the lavatory: we in the UK are: “Hamstrung by preposterous regulations, high taxes, a burdensome welfare system and anti-business legislation.” After 30 years of the demolition of this? Where else would he find an audience for this guff but the Adam Smith Institute. Let’s see — a Channel 4 reality show: we strip Luke of his wealth, drop him naked in the middle of China, say good luck and come back in 20 years to see if he’s a millionaire.
His writing is along the lines of ‘I’m no expert but…” followed by some huge rambling treatise but, just like in ‘Back to the Floor’ it doesn’t take long for the image to crack:
“A huge con has been perpetrated on the British public in the past few years by the environmental lobby, helped by sensationalist media. Major industries such as food manufacturing and supermarkets have meekly gone along with this fraud. The eco-activists have convinced millions of rational people that “organic” food is healthy and good, and that genetically modified foods are dangerous, and headlines such as “Mutant Foods Set For School Dinners Ban” and irresponsible use of nonsense phrases such as ‘Frankenstein Foods’ have inflamed public opinion and hampered progress. The reality is that GM foods are one of the few hopes that the Third World has of ending hunger and deprivation. Superstition and ignorance among educated people in the West are preventing farmers in Africa from producing safer, more plentiful crops. That Britain has suffered more misinformation about GM foods than most countries is especially disturbing, since the UK is a world leader in the biotech industry, with over 500 public and private biotechnology organisations.”
Now where did that come from — the horses mouth you might say: Monsanto’s pretend information channel “The Knowledge Centre.”
How can you run food outlets and talk like this? In the world of PR and Spin perhaps Signature Restaurants could punt this line — “we keep all our pesticides freshly sprayed with DDT and wash nothing.” How about ‘Frankenstein Foods’ as the name of some new place in Notting Hill, stuffed full of all his yes-men who’ll never see the small print on the menu which says ‘may render you infertile.’ Johnson read medicine at Oxford but has moved away from issues of health to accentuate the moneymaking side of bio tech typified by Monsanto.
Johnson’s business interests range from the Greyhound Racing Association — which operates six dog tracks — to a chain of dental practices, the Strada and Giraffe restaurant chains (presumably not eating Giraffes but who knows), weight-loss clinics and bingo halls.
He is part of the rise of the private equity company — a return to the days of asset stripping.
Now that he lords it over those who work for Channel 4, it will be the financial side of things Luke’s interested in — and how these concur with his own private interests. When the cameras are on him he will be a lot more of an enthusiastic defender of the Channel than his father, yes — the far right ‘polemicist’ Paul Johnson, who once memorably described a previous C4 chief executive, Michael Grade, as “Britain’s pornographer in chief”. But with a spanking new bottom on board people will no doubt be fully dressed at all times on Channel 4.
Like most ‘self-made’ entrepreneurs Daddy probably got him his first job — a spell at TV-AM as an assistant to his old pal Jonathan (CIA errand-boy) Aitken. Young Johnson’s view on his disgraced former employer is that he was “not nearly as wicked as some people like to portray him.” Good grief: is he worse?
There was also a brief period as the proprietor of Sunday Business , the perennially struggling newspaper. Journalists who worked there remembered his, once again, brusque manner. Months after he arrived, the newspaper was sold again.
Old Paul Johnson was a member of the Committee for a Free World which was thought to be an offshoot of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and back in the day its British membership was “as hoary a catalogue of reactionaries as you could wish not to meet,” and did its best to foment those proxy wars that dodgy report was on about.
“There is Sir James Goldsmith, Professor Julius Gould (author of the two ISC reports on the ‘Marxist infiltration of higher education’), Paul Johnson (Thatcher-loving former editor of the ‘New Statesman’), Richard Hoggart (recently deposed as chairman of that magazine), Robert Moss (the CIA’s Man in the Media, fanatical anti-communist columnist in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ and Goldsmith’s ‘Now” contributor to Forum World Features and the ISC, and council member of the Freedom Association, formerly of course the NAFF) and his media colleague Peregrine Worsthorne. Rubbing shoulders with this lot are …Stephen Haseler, SDA co-founder and co-expellee Douglas Eden, renegade Labour MPs Mike Thomas and Neville Sandelson, and, of course, without whom no such list can be complete, Frank Chapple.”
And the US version was chaired by Mr Human Security himself, the young Donald H. Rumsfeld. Its about time young Johnson joined some dodgy think tank himself, and that, of course, would be Editorial Intelligence, but there will be plenty more to come.