A woman looks at Piet Mondrian's 1927 piece Composition with Red, Blue and Grey, on display ahead of sale at Sotheby's June 18. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Cheering on Italy, dressing as a Mondrian and Dave’s date at Chiltern Firehouse

The PM sat down for supper with his wife and two friends. With EU negotiations at fever pitch, Iraq crumbling and snappers outside, a politician with taste might have cried off that night.

Back in March, shortly after it opened, I asked Chiltern Firehouse for a reservation. The suddenly hip Marylebone joint came back with an offer: “We can fit you in on 6 July.” A three-and-a-half-month wait? Even the ability to pronounce the surname of its New York owner, André Balazs (it rhymes with Farage), matters not to the receptionist. It is social connections that get you into this restaurant.

A-listers tripped easily through its doors: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie Minogue, Lily Allen; the list is so jaw-dropping, it’s a wonder that any food gets masticated on the premises. (Perhaps that’s a good thing: when a friend pulled a few strings for a table for me and my team on the Evening Standard diary last month, we didn’t exactly come back raving about the monkfish.)

We teased away at this elitism for months. Then one recent evening the cherry was finally dropped into this absurd cocktail: as Lindsay Lohan pirouetted for the paparazzi outside, David Cameron sat down for supper with his wife and two friends. (My phone buzzed immediately with a disbelieving text message from a fellow diner.) With EU negotiations at fever pitch, Iraq crumbling and snappers outside, a politician with taste might have cried off that night. I’m told that even the PR maestro Matthew Freud, sitting at another table, looked surprised to see him there.

 

Drop dead glamorous

“Turn right for the lobster,” said Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler magazine, at the “Art Ball” the magazine hosted with Christie’s auction house on 12 June. We had all been asked to dress as works of art. I had come as a Mondrian; others had come as Tretchikoff’s blue woman and Michelangelo’s David. In the next room, to which Reardon was directing me, was a table laid out like a Dutch still life, overflowing with beef, fruit, hams and the aforementioned lobster. What was missing was the bitter peeled lemon, the rotting fruit: the symbols in the Dutch paintings that remind us such earthly delights are passing vanities. But there was one memento mori in the room: a skull. A guest wore a balaclava encrusted with fake diamonds, after Damien Hirst. Even mortality is glamorous these days.

 

Home from home

Last Saturday night, on the side street in Soho where I live, the waiters sneaking ciggies and lovers kissing were disturbed as 11 men in England shirts came through chanting: “Where the f*** are we, where the f*** are we?” Lost souls. The Aussies living opposite and the Koreans and Americans beside me all leaned out of windows to watch them.

This was not a usual sight in the melting pot of Soho. Three blocks further east and these lads would find themselves in a sea of blue shirts on Frith Street where Bar Italia was screening the big match (and where I was going to watch). My footballing loyalties were forged in 1982, staying up for the final with my Italian father. Paolo Rossi’s name was spoken like a saint’s. I remember Maurice Glasman, the Blue Labour peer, telling me how confused he was watching the 1966 World Cup final with German-Jewish relatives. He was primed to cheer for England but when Germany scored they whooped; despite all the history, it was still home.

London, a city of immigrants, has many teams to cheer for and countries left behind.

 

Guilty consciences

Flicking through Hard Choices, I was struck by how warmly Hillary Clinton wrote about our Cathy Ashton in her memoirs. The outgoing EU foreign affairs commissioner’s successes have been largely ignored in this country. Brokering reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo can’t have been easy and she has been chipping away at the nuclear impasse with Iran with some rewards.

Ashton comes across as a good listener, perhaps more appreciated by those across the table than by her own side. She is not bothered about personal PR, nor photo opportunities with Angelina Jolie.

Who will No 10 nominate to replace her? Political tribalism means it will be a Tory. As for qualifications, they may be less relevant than guilty consciences in Downing Street. Leon Brittan and Peter Mandelson both went to Brussels because they had been unfairly sacked from cabinet. So Andrew Mitchell for an aid – or bicycling – portfolio, or Andrew Lansley, Cameron’s old boss at Conservative Central Office, perhaps. After the delicate touch Lansley displayed in handling NHS reform, what could go wrong?

 

Dionne and dusted

Several different PRs call to ask if I would like to go to see Dionne Warwick sing a late gig at the Dover Street Arts Club, revamped a few years ago and now more a home to Euro and Asian bling than struggling artists. As a sweetener they all promise that Kate Moss will be at the gig. They can’t see my shrug down the phone line: it’s Dionne Warwick I want to see.

When I arrive, Topshop owner Philip Green is pacing around the street outside, pestering his mobile phone. I presume he is ringing his dear friend Kate to find out where she has got to. In the velvet-lined basement downstairs Warwick is tetchy, chiding the audience for filming her on their mobile phones and not applauding her backing band’s solos. Last year, she was declared bankrupt, down to a couple of fur coats, a pair of diamond earrings and $1,000 in cash. Burt Bacharach’s muse still has a voice like honey but clearly also pride like peanut brittle. Can you blame her, out touring again aged 73, to such an entitled crowd?

The main table below the stage was empty, likely reserved for La Moss, who never did show. Still, Philip Green bounded up to Warwick afterwards. “Didn’t we have such fun in Monaco?” crooned the Topshop tycoon. Warwick looked blank. “Who are you?” she asked.

If the comeback tour fails, there’s always the reception desk at the Firehouse.

Joy Lo Dico edits the Londoner’s Diary in the Evening Standard

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

Getty.
Show Hide image

Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.