Shakespeare's Globe

Tories at Tramp, Nick Clegg’s denial, and how to survive Derek Draper

‘‘There are 17 people that count. And to say that I am intimate with every one of them is the understatement of the century.” So said Derek Draper in 1998 when he was offering businessmen access to Labour ministers in return for cash. Draper may have reinvented himself as a psychotherapist, but he is as irrepressible as ever – as he demonstrated last week at the launch of his latest book, Life Support: a Survival Guide for the Modern Soul, at Dartmouth House in Mayfair.

Sportingly, he allowed himself to be photographed with a lifebelt over his head. His television presenter wife, Kate Garraway, was invited to join him inside the lifebelt, but politely declined. Wise woman. That photo would not have gone down too well back at GMTV.

Derek introduced me to fellow guests, with the words: “This is Sebastian, who has still to have his breakdown.” Charmed, I’m sure. As Derek fiddled with his BlackBerry he provided a constant update on the stream of congratulatory messages he was receiving from well-wishers. “Peter has just messaged me to say he might drop by after he’s done Channel 4 News,” said Derek. “James has just texted to say he’s sorry he can’t join us as he’s with Ed and Yvette. Look! He says he hopes I wrote as much of this book as Blair’s 100 Days.” This was the encomium Draper co-authored with the historian Tristram Hunt about Labour’s first three months in government.

The names kept coming thick and fast . . . except that few, if any, were at Derek’s party. “I bet you don’t believe me,” said Draper. “Isn’t it funny. This is what I was accused of when I was a lobbyist. Boasting about all my contacts.” Derek, I never doubted you for a moment.

It’s not often you find George Osborne and David Cameron visiting a nightclub at 6pm. The pair pitched up at Tramp in Jermyn Street, which is often frequented by the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Didn’t they have better things to do on the eve of the G20 summit? Clearly not. Their excuse was a party in honour of a new publication called Citizen. No, not a pamphlet from the Adam Smith Institute, but a debut novel by Charlie Brooks about “sex, betrayal and murder”. Osborne’s critics have often claimed he looks too pink and well-fed for a recession. It seems he likes his literature red-blooded as well. Or could it have been because Brooks just happens to be the fiancé of the Sun editor, Rebekah Wade?

Proof of Claud Cockburn’s dictum that you should never believe anything until it has been officially denied. Last week it was reported that the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was indignant that he had not been invited to have talks with Barack Obama during the G20 summit. Even the Tory leader was granted a 30-minute private audience with His Barackness. The Lib Dem leader’s office denied the reports and said they were completely untrue. Yet the story came from the horse’s mouth. The photographer Alan Davidson was taking a picture of Vincent Cable and Clegg at the launch of Cable’s new book at the National Liberal Club when he asked the author whether he was going to present Obama with a copy of his book. According to Davidson, his query prompted Clegg to express his dismay at not getting to meet the American president. Davidson stands by his story. They say the camera never lies. But what about the cameraman?

Parliamentary guests who braved the launch of Chris Mullin’s diaries, A View from the Foothills, in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons probably did not expect to be insulted on arrival. “Most memoirs by politicians aren’t worth publishing,” said Mullin’s publisher at Profile, Andrew Franklin, in his welcoming speech. Cue awkward shuffling from the assembled MPs, who included Peter Hain, Nick Soames and Ann Clwyd. “There will be a walkout if you carry on like that,” replied a jovial Mullin. He then apologised to those he had traduced in his diaries and those he had missed out. “When I went to the library I found one of my colleagues looking for his name in the index,” he revealed. But Mullin declined to identify the culprit. No wonder some have said he is too nice – or too craven – for his own good.

This article first appeared in the 13 April 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Easter 2009

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.