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  1. Long reads
13 November 2008

Shakespeare’s Globe

The people, the places, the events

By Sebastian Shakespeare

We are all Keynesians now. After being out of fashion for 30 years, the name of John Maynard Keynes is regularly invoked and Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are fond of his policy of borrowing and spending our way out of a recession. But have they forgotten that Keynes, like David Cameron, went to Eton College which, according to some in the Labour Party, disqualifies a man from taking part in public life? Eton has, of course, also provided us with arguably two of the country’s finest socialists: namely George Orwell and the Earl of Longford.

Cambridge-born Keynes, the father of modern theoretical macroeconomics, revealed on his deathbed his “only regret”: “that I did not drink more champagne”. There is another piquant connection which has a contemporary resonance. William Haslam, father of socialite Nicky Haslam, was a Cambridge contemporary of Keynes and became his private secretary at the Genoa conference which proposed a partial return to the gold standard in 1922. Nicky, of course, likes nothing better than to quaff champagne and spend, spend, spend – as his bash last month at Parkstead House in Roehampton testified. If you want to be a true Keynesian, you should party like there is no tomorrow.

Yes, we can. According to a government report published this month, social mobility is on the rise. Naturally social mobility, like share prices, can involve a downwards as well as an upwards direction. So what next for Tory historian Andrew Roberts? Being friends with him can be a dangerous occupation. There was Conrad Black, who now resides in jail serving a six-year sentence for criminal fraud and obstructing justice. And Roberts has long been a great cheerleader for George W Bush and his neocon friends. For his pains, he received a pair of presidential cufflinks on a visit to the Oval Office. Obama’s victory marks the end of his special relationship with the White House.

Roberts admits it is unlikely he will be invited to the White House in the next eight years (conceding the next election before it is fought). Perhaps imminent redundancy explains his current ubiquity. On election night he was drumming up new friends at five consecutive London parties, if we exclude the possibility that, like Winston Churchill, one of the subjects of his latest book, he had hired a double. If anyone can prevent relegation from society’s premier league, Roberts can.

Not that I can claim any fancy social footwork. I arrived at the launch of my wife’s book, The Art of Conversation, at Ralph Lauren in New Bond Street, to find her alone with six paparazzi and a bunch of mannequins – and promptly introduced myself to a dummy (my eyesight isn’t what it was).

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Later that night, Germaine Greer gave me a useful tip: “Dr Samuel Johnson, on meeting the poet Helen Maria Williams – who, by the way, was incredibly nervous at meeting the great man – simply recited one of her 14-line poems back to her. Now that is the art of conversation.”

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Perhaps Jonathan Ross should try it, given that his antics led even Gordon Brown to comment. “This is clearly inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, as is now widely recognised,” said the Prime Minister.

But how do you define bad behaviour? One man’s horseplay is another’s hanging offence. The BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson bit a colleague on the arm in 1988 in a fit of rage when he was the newly appointed editor of the Nine O’clock News – and he still kept his job.

David Cameron also jumped on the moral bandwagon. There is no doubt that it suited the Tory leader to keep his embattled shadow chancellor George Osborne and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska off the front pages. But Tony Blair was truly a dab hand at hijacking the news agenda. In 1998, during his premiership, he demanded the release from prison of Deirdre Rashid (now back to being Deirdre Barlow) – a fictional character in Coronation Street.

Still, only two people out of an audience of 380,000 saw fit to complain to the BBC when the controversial Russell Brand Show was first broadcast on Radio 2. The trouble only came about because a Mail on Sunday journalist happened to be listening to the show at home while he cooked himself a dish of pasta. There is no more poignant image than that of a bachelor staying in on a Saturday night masticating his dinner. The reporter, Miles Goslett, landed a huge scoop through happenstance – being in the right place at the right time, on this occasion in his kitchen.

This must rank as the most expensive bachelor supper in history – resulting in the 12-week suspension of Ross (which would have earned him a salary of £1.5m) and the resignations of the Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas, another senior BBC executive, and Brand. Still, at least man-biter Mark Thompson remains in situ. Awaiting his pound of Goslett’s flesh?

Sebastian Shakespeare is editor of the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary