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
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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

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The NS leader: Cold Britannia

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. 

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. The polls suggest a series of grim election defeats across Britain: Labour is 10 points behind the Conservatives even in Wales, putting Theresa May’s party on course to win a majority of seats there for the first time in a century. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the psephologist John Curtice expects the resurgent Tories, under the “centrist” leadership of Ruth Davidson, to gain seats while Labour struggles to cling on to its single MP.

Where did it all go wrong? In this week’s cover essay, beginning on page 26, John Harris traces the roots of Labour’s present troubles back to the scene of one of its greatest triumphs, on 1 May 1997, when it returned 418 MPs to the Commons and ended 18 years of Conservative rule. “Most pop-culture waves turn out to have been the advance party for a new mutation of capitalism, and so it proved with this one,” Mr Harris, one of the contributors to our New Times series, writes. “If Cool Britannia boiled down to anything, it was the birth of a London that by the early Noughties was becoming stupidly expensive and far too full of itself.”

Jump forward two decades and London is indeed now far too dominant in the British economy, sucking in a disproportionate number of graduates and immigrants and then expecting them to pay £4 for a milky coffee and £636,777 for an average house. Tackling the resentment caused by London’s dominance must be an urgent project for the Labour Party. It is one that Mr Corbyn and his key allies, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott, are not well placed to do (all four are ultra-liberals who represent
London constituencies).

Labour must also find a happy relationship with patriotism, which lies beneath many of the other gripes made against Mr Corbyn: his discomfort with the institutions of the British state, his peacenik tendencies, his dislike of Nato and military alliances, his natural inclination towards transnational or foreign liberation movements, rather than seeking to evolve a popular national politics.

New Labour certainly knew how to wave the flag, even if the results made many on the left uncomfortable: on page 33, we republish our Leader from 2 May 1997, which complained about the “bulldog imagery” of Labour’s election campaign. Yet those heady weeks that followed Labour’s landslide victory were a time of optimism and renewal, when it was possible for people on the left to feel proud of their country and to celebrate its achievements, rather than just apologise for its mistakes. Today, Labour has become too reliant on misty invocations of the NHS to demonstrate that it likes or even understands the country it seeks to govern. A new patriotism, distinct from nationalism, is vital to any Labour revival.

That Tony Blair and his government have many detractors hardly needs to be said. The mistakes were grave: the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, a lax attitude to regulating the financial sector, a too-eager embrace of free-market globalisation, and the failure to impose transitional controls on immigration when eastern European states joined the EU. All contributed to the anger and disillusionment that led to the election as Labour leader of first the hapless Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time rebel backbencher.

However, 20 years after the victory of the New Labour government, we should also acknowledge its successes, not least the minimum wage, education reform, Sure Start, a huge fall in pensioner poverty and investment in public services. Things did get better. They can do so again.

The far right halted

For once, the polls were correct. On 23 April, the centrist Emmanuel Macron triumphed in the first round of the French election with 24 per cent of the vote. The Front National’s Marine Le Pen came second with 21.3 per cent in an election in which the two main parties were routed. The two candidates will now face off on 7 May, and with the mainstream candidates of both left and right falling in behind Mr Macron, he will surely be France’s next president.

“There’s a clear distinction to be made between a political adversary and an enemy of the republic,” said Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the governing Parti Socialiste, who had strongly criticised Mr Macron during the campaign. “This is deadly serious now.” He is correct. Mr Macron may be a centrist rather than of the left but he is a democratic politician. Ms Le Pen is a borderline fascist and a victory for her would herald a dark future not just for France but for all of Europe. It is to Donald Trump’s deep shame that he appeared to endorse her on the eve of the vote.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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