To the New Statesman summer party at Tate Britain last Thursday. The London mercury's through the roof and not even sepulchral cool stone interiors can entirely lift the heat from Britain's radiant left-ish intelligentsia. So that on entry one is struck immediately by an ambience of herd body odour.
The elderly magazine has recently enjoyed the benefits of editorial HRT with the appointment of editor John Kampfner. One of the results is a new, lovely silky complexion, replacing the rough old paper stock, and a blooming of colour as fresh blood courses everywhere.
You know the weekly must be doing well because Tesco has provided the free champagne. The NS has finally caught up with Tony Blair.
As Kampfner addresses the sweaty throng – “We’re selling 30,000 copies a week, subscriptions are at record levels!” – an odd little man in Seventies’ denim sidles up. “I’m back,” he says conspiratorially, crystal ear studs sparkling. “I was out in the wilderness but I’m back in again.” It’s one-time NME hero Charles Shaar Murray: he’s humblingly grateful for this happy turn in his fortunes. “They’ve given me some work again,” he adds when I appear uncomprehending.
Then he darts over to the Independent’s literary ed Boyd Tonkin with a book in hand to reassure him he’ll be getting the review shortly. Well, when you’re a freelance you’ve got to work the party.
Then I bump into a radio producer. “Oh God,” he says. “Charlie Whelan should be coming but he’s dead drunk. He collapsed on the floor at Westminster, I don’t know if he’s coming.” Yet half-an-hour later Gordon Brown’s former press rottweiler turns up looking sober so I don’t know what to believe.
Neil and Christine Hamilton present an incongruous sight given his Thatcherite past, twinned at the hip as ever: she's clad in a shocking red frock, perhaps in homage to the NS's political past. A pinkish hue might be more appropriate de nos jours. Julian Clary is advised to lose a little weight.
As I talk with the mag’s excellent new arts diarist Ben Dowell, I spot Clare Short passing by. “Darling,” I scream, “I just love you!” We’ve never met before yet she reciprocates my affectionate greeting with a joyous hug – “I love you too!” she shouts.
But I soon turn serious. “Now Clare,” I say, “what’s with you and kittens? On a Radio 4 show sometime ago, on cruelty to animals and vivisection, you said something like if a child is a cruel to a kitten, it’s not the kitten you worry about, it’s the child who’s capable of being cruel to the kitten, that’s my concern. Clare how could you say such a thing? What about the kitty?”
Clare looks utterly bemused. “I don’t remember saying that. When did I say that?” So we argue amiably until I’m dragged away by a friend. We observe John Kamfner who keeps lifting his legs up for some reason as he anecdotalises: I notice he has those hooded sort of eyes that I always associate with ruthlessness: Margaret Thatcher has them, too. Madame Arcati says he will be very successful.
Michael Buerk is holding court, very animated now in a crumpled white jacket. I spot ex-Times ed and columnist Simon Jenkins, on a recce for copy maybe: I've never quite worked out his politics, but he writes great sentences. The Observer/Mail writer Mary Riddell snakes about the party inscrutably. “I wonder if they’ve put up their rates,” she says. Now she’s blonded up she looks years younger. At the People in the late ‘80s she sported a hideous Bowie-esque hairdo.
I need air. My companion and I escape into London’s allergen-heavy ozone. I want to say something to Will Self but my companion drags me away to another party.