Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Editing a newspaper is not a dinner party, as Chairman Mao would have observed had he been running a tabloid, but you sure do get invited to dinners and lunches and breakfasts, most of which are politely turned down because there is a paper to publish and competitors to clobber mercilessly and ceaselessly. But, thanks to the influence of the peerless political-reporting team at the Times, some invitations arrive which can't be summarily rejected even if the reporters have to provide the verbal equivalent of subtitles by translating the lofty concepts or subtle intrigues being articulated by our hosts. So, it was clear on the eve of the Bournemouth conference during a dinner with lain Duncan Smith that the next few days of speeches would mark a turning point for the Conservative party, even though it was obvious that he would lose his voice long before the delegates retreated from the seaside. With this insider knowledge, it was no surprise that IDS spent much of the conference sucking on lozenges, or that Theresa May, the party chairman, strode on to the stage in those striking leopard-print heels and lambasted her beloved `nasty party'.

Over the past week, the highfalutin dining and the gathering of intelligence have been done in the company of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Do these invitations come in pairs? And who has the more sophisticated political palate? Food has been over-intellectualised - much as every football fan is now a student of philosophy and every act of gardening is an existential exercise - but there are lessons to be drawn from how people eat, even if the dishes are not prepared by a celebrity vamp or a ladle lad. Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister served a Moroccan stew, with green side salad, at No. 10, while the Chancellor provided a modern interpretation of the truck-stop breakfast at No. 11 on Thursday. The Prime Minister is a delicate eater, picking at small portions in-between comments, while the Chancellor generally exhibited admirable self-restraint, although there was one morsel moment of great significance. Being a reasonably well-travelled hack, I have had the privilege of seeing people eat bananas on several continents, but few have been as aggressive as Mr Brown, who swallowed the fruit almost whole, much as the defence budget consumes hundreds of millions of pounds without trace or as dotcom companies completely disappeared after having been worth billions a month or two earlier. The Chancellor's remorseless attack on

The banana was strangely reminiscent of the food fervour of Lawrence Summers, the former US treasury secretary, who impaled sausages with the Vlad-like passion that he showed in skewering ideological opponents. A mouth full of food was no obstacle to the flow of conversation - intellectual virtuosity was never going to be a victim of prandial protocol. Mr Summers - Larry to his economist friends - was touted as a genius, and so was excused any non-cerebral slovenliness, but Mr Brown does seem to be both a little smarter and somewhat more acquainted with the concept of table hygiene. In other words, the bohemian supply-and-demand charts don't quite work (i.e., the supply of supposed brilliance is in proportion to the demands on your goodwill).

What made the food particularly fascinoting is that the conversations were off-therecord and, even though the Times is fond of publishing diaries and memoirs and the like, we don't eat-and-tell. Without betraying confidences, it is fair to say that the Prime Minister and his Chancellor were well-briefed and articulate, although we did see Mr Blair before he was betrayed by his very close friend Jacques Chirac over European farm subsidies. …

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