The art of taxation was likened by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s finance minister, to plucking the largest quantity of feathers from the goose with the smallest possible amount of hissing. Not since the days of those great pluckers, Roy Jenkins and Denis Healey, have we had an income-tax rise on the cards.
Healey promised to "squeeze the rich until the pips squeak" (he clearly didn't mind about the hissing), but it was Jenkins who introduced some of the steepest tax rises in his 1968 Budget. "In the short term we must have a stiff Budget followed by two years of hard slog," he said. Looking back at his time as chancellor, Jenkins always regretted that he had not raised taxes earlier and in his tract Pursuit of Progress he demanded "a substantial extension of public ownership". It would have been unthinkable a few years ago but Woy is now in danger of coming back into fashion. When I last saw him at Brooks's Club he was enjoying a convivial lunch, tucking into his game (or could it have been goose?), and looking as florid as a Labour rosette. "Roy has a remarkable constitution," my host whispered to me. "He's a two-bottle-a-lunch man." Liquid lunches are now as anachronistic as the SDP. Alistair Darling, one suspects, is never out to lunch. Which might just be our saving grace.
I am trying to become a new man. Happily, help arrived last week with the publication of Andrew Martin’s latest book, How to Get Things Really Flat: a Man's Guide to Ironing, Dusting and Other Household Arts. The author launched his manual at Daunt’s on the Fulham Road in London with a practical demonstration. He came equipped with an ironing board and pointed out that ironing is most certainly not for wimps: one of the first things you learn when you join the Foreign Legion is how to press your clothes. My quick straw poll of guests showed that few, if any, wives iron their husbands’ clothes. “I never do Tim’s ironing,” said the novelist Tim Lott’s wife, Rachael, which might explain his permanently crumpled air.
Martin believes that women have no incentive to make their husbands look attractive, hence their abdication of this domestic chore. Thanks to his tutorial, I left the party with renewed resolve to be a domestic god.
Unfortunately, my new-man credentials were besmirched when I went to a party hosted by Amanda Eliasch, the photographer and ex-wife of Gordon Brown's green policy adviser John Eliasch. The venue was the Soho Revue Bar, but I hadn't realised until I arrived that it was a pole-dancing club. Nor that we would be entertained by burlesque dancers. The male guests, including myself, were at pains to point out very loudly that we had never been to such an establishment before. It didn't stop us from snatching occasional furtive glances across the room. When I returned home my wife asked where I had been. In my defence, I pointed out most of the partygoers, such as Tracey Emin and Jerry Hall, were women and that one of the pole dancers had cellulite. "How do you know?" she said. "Er, I put on my glasses," I confessed. It will take me some time to iron out all my sexist creases.
Journalism is a dangerous trade, as I discovered this spring when an angry reader assaulted me outside my front door and upended a bag of manure over my head. But never have I considered hiring a bodyguard. The downside of having so many oligarchs in town is the alarming rise in security personnel. When I dined at a Mayfair restaurant the other day a couple of goons at the bar eyeballed every arrival. My guest, a Labour peer, was sufficiently taken by their presence to ask the waitress the name of their employer. Discretion forbade her from divulging his identity.
When Sir Philip Green took his bodyguard to Vogue's 90th birthday party at the Serpentine Gallery I mocked him, saying it was disrespectful to your hosts to imply they consorted with dubious company, as well as the ultimate symbol of naffness. Green was not amused. He claimed he needed protection and threatened to beat me up with a baseball bat. I yield to no one in my admiration for Sir Philip (he has still to carry out his threat), but shouldn't our plutocrats leave their goons outside?
Politics may be showbiz for ugly people, but now showbiz has become so political you can’t keep MPs away from it. A Tory MP tabled an early-day motion last week (cost to the taxpayer: £300) urging the BBC to reinstate John Sergeant on Strictly Come Dancing. The Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, told the Commons that the decision to vote out the “talented and wonderful” Laura White from The X Factor had been “very harsh”. Robert Kilroy-Silk is moonlighting on I’m a Celebrity while an MEP. At a reception in Downing Street a couple of years ago I was startled to see the then chancellor, Gordon Brown, chatting away to The X Factor’s Shayne Ward and Chico Slimani. “I don’t know whether he’s a fan but he told me he’s seen the show,” said Chico. Barely a year later Brown was proclaiming Britain had fallen out of love with celebrity. I don’t think so. Politicians least of all.
Sebastian Shakespeare is editor of the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary