Present and correct

Need some last-minute gift ideas? Then look no further

As I said some weeks ago, I have been so full of anticipation over Christmas from early on that, by this stage, I almost register on the Richter scale with my shaky excitement. For those of you who were a bit slow to it, however, and still have Christmas presents to buy, let me help.

It's a really bad idea to give perfume or aftershave; you'll either get it wrong or you'll buy what they always wear and that smacks of restocking, rather than buying a present. If you want to buy someone, male or female, a smelly present then forget scented candles, nice though they are, and get Living Cologne by Jo Malone (

This is basically air-freshener, but is like no air-freshener you'll have (probably) tried before. First, it's £45 a bottle, but I've had mine (Napa Leather for downstairs bathroom, Pine and Eucalyptus for upstairs) for two years now and there's still loads left. (I covet the Grapefruit and Rosemary, if anyone is reading.) Second, it's just so classy and gorgeous and sublime and so worth every penny. You'd be hard-pushed to buy a better present.

A lovely, slightly silly present, but one that would be very welcome, is a pair of cashmere mittens, £22.50 from . These have three big selling points: they're cashmere, so very warm; they're mittens, which makes everyone smile (you just can't take mittens too seriously); and they're long-cuffed, so super-snug. I adore mine. This website is also where I buy all my pashminas: great prices, quality and service.

If you're going to someone's house for Christmas but aren't sure what to buy them, I have two suggestions: Persephone books, which are magical little volumes - short stories, journals, old cookery books. All are housed in dove-grey covers, but the inside covers are splendidly patterned; each book is different. You can buy them for £10 each, or £27 for three, from selected bookshops or www.persephonebooks. All the most fashionable people eat Tracklements Chilli Jam at £3.15. (I once introduced it to a bunch of fashion editors, in sausage sandwiches, and they still berate me for getting them addicted to it - and the sausage sandwiches.) Have a look at for local stockists, as online you need to buy a minimum of six jars (although . . . ).

Never underestimate how great a present a magazine subscription is: while most people can afford a magazine, a subscription seems such an indulgence.

The super beauty of it is, also, that you can buy a copy of said magazine at the last minute, include a note, and set up the subscription at a later date. And, of course, you are giving a present for every week or month of the year, for what works out a bargain price.

Have a lovely Christmas. See you in the New Year, when we're talking warm sheepskin boots à la Ugg.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2007

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David Cameron’s speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.