If you’re not upset by Charlotte Owen, you should be

No views, no achievements, no experience—so why did Boris Johnson elevate a 29-year-old to the House of Lords?

September 15, 2023
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Image: ParliamentTV

Does Charlotte Owen upset you? If not, it’s possible you haven’t been paying attention.

Name doesn’t ring a bell? How about Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge? Still drawing a blank?

It’s not your fault. There is almost nothing to know about Charlotte Owen. She is a blank sheet of paper. She has done very little of note. She has no discernible views about anything. The sum total of her achievements would barely stretch to the full 280 characters of a tweet. 

And yet, Britain being Britain—and thank God we took back control from all those unelected foreigners in Brussels!—this blank sheet of paper is now a peer of the realm. She sits as a member of the legislature, making and revising laws for the rest of us until the end of her days. Which, as she was only 29 when appointed, could be a decent 50-year stint.

We can’t vote her out. And we will have to fork out £332 a day every time she steps foot inside the House of Lords, plus travel expenses and subsidised food. It’s called parliamentary sovereignty, I think.

Baroness Owen took her seat in July, and it is fair to say she has made little impact so far. Her parliamentary page is empty—no listed experience, no voting record, no questions, no speeches, no interests to register. There is, it seems, no way of contacting her.

In short, nothing. And perhaps, as Lear tells us, nothing will come of nothing.

An enterprising journalist, Cat Neilan, has nevertheless attempted on our behalf to find out more about Boris’s Baroness for a Tortoise podcast, which has just been released. I mean no disrespect to Neilan to say she added virtually nothing to the nothing we already knew. And yet her investigation is fascinating for precisely that reason.

What did she find out? That Charlotte played the flute at her private school in Alderley Edge, and was a House Captain. She got three A-levels and studied at York University, where she was remembered, if at all, as being “friendly and quiet”.

She spoke little in lectures and was a “not very active” member of the Young Conservatives (she was “less interested in politics than networking”, according to a friend). She dated a boy called James Stanbury, the son of a failed Ukip candidate. So far, so blank.

There followed a series of internships about which, as Neilan drily observes, “recollections may vary”. But Neilan appears to be on solid ground in accusing Charlotte of “that well-known phenomenon, CV inflation”.

She may, or may not, have worked in George Osborne’s constituency office in Tatton, though she did subsequently volunteer in neighbouring Hazel Grove, where her duties were described as seeming “rather menial, but there’s more to it than making cups of tea”. That was early in 2017.

And now she’s a Baroness! What happened to propel her from not-just-making-the-tea to making-laws-for-life? Well, recollections again vary. But she had set her heart on interning for Boris Johnson. An anonymous source told Tortoise: “The whole persona that Boris Johnson has is very in line with the kind of people Charlotte enjoys being around—very posh, a bit all over the place. It plays to her humour.”

Other internships followed and, before you know it, Charlotte was Johnson’s senior parliamentary assistant and—though her LinkedIn profile does not necessarily match official listings in regard to dates—a special adviser to the man who was by now prime minister. A source described her as “extraordinarily junior”. 

What did she do while at Number 10? Said one source: “She would arrange meetings, feed in information for Boris just to have a quick 20 seconds before going into a meeting to understand what that meeting was going to be about.” More than making the tea, in other words, but some way short of, say, leading on strategy. An accomplished EA would recognise the duties.

When Johnson was out, so was Charlotte. Liz Truss did not, it is said, consider her a “particularly strong asset”. So here we are, with Charlotte in the House of Lords instead of having to tout her CV around in search of work.

In light of Johnson’s own, um, escapades, Neilan felt obliged to address some of the more lurid theories circulating on social media. Her father was a financial consultant called Mike. And there is “no evidence” for what she calls “sexist, cruel scuttlebutt”.

There are not many countries in the world where rulers get to appoint legislators. The King of Bahrain gets to choose the members of the Upper House, but they have a mere four-year fixed term. The President of Belarus has the same power—but, again, with a set timespan. Our arrangements may, in this respect, have more in common with Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), where members of the Upper House are appointed by the King, with no apparent term limit. 

Johnson, an amateur historian, presumably knows about the centuries-long struggle by ordinary British citizens for a parliament that was both fair and representative. He will know that untold numbers of people suffered, were tortured, fought and died to help create a better democracy. United Kingdom, mother of parliaments, indeed.

His parting gift to the nation was to nominate a rum bunch of cronies, donors, time-servers and toadies to the Peerage. At least eight of them were deemed unappointable. But it was presumably difficult to argue against Charlotte, being such a blank sheet of paper. So we’re stuck with her for the rest of her life.

As I say, if the story of Baroness Owen doesn’t upset you, then it’s possible you haven’t been paying attention.