I’ve had as many politicians for lunch as you’ve had hot dinners. Actually, when I say lunch, I mean dinner. Many of these meals remain entirely blurry. In the Blairite years, for instance, many of the ministers were basically interchangeable. Even during the meal it would be hard to remember what they had said a minute after they’d said it. They were on-message even food-wise. Salads and mineral water. Give me a Tory who wants duck and sticky toffee pudding any day.
And this is one of my problems: I have never really liked the correct people. Quaintly, I think dinner should be gossip that makes you gasp and a decent drink, not some regurgitation of a policy paper that I could have read anyway.
One of the best dinners I had was with John Prescott. I do adore him. And yes, I know about the stupid affair, but God, a working-class bloke who becomes deputy prime minister, decks people and gets off a rough flight and says, “It’s great to be back on terracotta” is OK with me.
He was mercilessly mocked for just being working-class. Nicholas Soames used to taunt him from the Tory benches: “Mine’s a gin and tonic, Giovannni, and would you ask my friend what he’s having?” referring to Prescott’s time as a steward. Chippy? Who wouldn’t be?
But kind, yes. He gave my friend’s aunt a job when she was in her eighties. And she was some spark. When I mentioned the affair she said, “Men’s trousers go up and down, dear. Who gives a damn?” She loved the Labour Party and so does Prescott, who is calling for unity.
During our dinner he kept shouting, “Ooh, we could do with a nice sorbet,” which still makes me laugh, because it’s what his generation of working-class people think is posh. It was like home for me.
But to be honest, the reason I was desperate to be at this dinner, and the reason I think Prescott is great, is that he is married to Pauline.
This woman is a goddess. Magnificent. I love her make-up, her clothes, her big hair, her over-plumped cushions. Her steel. She gave up her first son for adoption very young. She is tough and yet tender about her husband’s insecurities.
We looked over the menu together.
“What are scallops?” Pauline asked me.
This was the wife of the deputy prime minister.
I told her and she said she would like to try them.
“I like to try new things but John doesn’t.”
Every Friday, she told me, they went to the Chinese in Hull and John ordered them the set menu.
I could hear him laughing at one of his own mad, oft-repeated jokes about having had a brain scan but no hint of syntax ever having been found.
So I called the waiter over and quietly ordered Pauline the scallops.
This article appears in the 23 Sep 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Revenge of the Left