Britain’s new role—Jeeves to the world

In a series of eye-opening case studies, Oliver Bullough shows how low we have sunk
May 11, 2022
Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals
Oliver Bullough
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US politician Dean Acheson declared in 1962 that Britain had “lost an empire and failed to find a role.” In his new book, journalist Oliver Bullough argues we have found our métier—butler to the world. Though our prime minister resembles Bertie Wooster, Britain is in reality Jeeves, welcoming with open arms anyone with enough money, no questions asked. Some even end up in the House of Lords.

For Bullough, a Russia expert who has previously written about the UK’s role in financial corruption, we get away with it because of our benign self-image. Britain’s “history, tradition, humour, institutions,” he writes, have “become a costume for the country’s elites to wear, as they scour the world for fresh clients.”

In a series of eye-opening case studies, Bullough shows how low we have sunk. He visits the British Virgin Islands and interviews the governor Gus Jaspert about the shell companies the colony hosts. Jaspert’s office “felt like the staff common room at a failing prep school in Herefordshire,” writes Bullough, in one of his neat turns of phrase. Unsurprisingly the governor is not very forthcoming about the BVI’s financial shenanigans—and why should he be? Per head someone living in the BVI is richer than the average person in western Europe.

Similarly, Bullough charts the surprising story of how Gibraltar has become the home of fantastically lucrative betting companies. This morally questionable industry, whose addictive product has been linked to 650 suicides a year in the UK alone, was hosted on the rock with very little debate about its effect on wider society.

And it isn’t just overseas territories. Bullough’s carefully worded chapter on pro-Putin Ukrainian gas billionaire Dmitry Firtash reveals a man who owns a £60m-property in Knightsbridge, funded a course at Cambridge University and bankrolled trips for politicians such as Tory MP John Whittingdale. He was also, at this time, being investigated for corruption by the FBI. Whittingdale’s response to Bullough’s question about whether he should have been more circumspect in dealing with Firtash sums up the Jeeves masquerading as Wooster ethos: “goodness, one meets a lot of people.”