Good turn out of dark suits and floral frocks at the rather subdued New Statesman's “summer” do at the Banqueting House in Westminster last night.
Under Rubens’ splendid ceiling in the Main Hall – one of the last things Charles I would have gazed upon before losing his head on the scaffold just outside in 1649 - proprietor Geoffrey Robinson mounted the throne dais and announced that Gordon Brown was expected at 8.30-ish pm. If the PM did turn up – if he could be bothered to cross the road from Downing Street – I wouldn’t know because he was still not there 45 minutes after ETA when I left. Before then, Robinson introduced his editor John Kampfner for whom, he suggested, the throne was a better fit.
Kamfner’s speech wasn’t the gung-ho marathon of last year when he was the debutant editor on a mission to impose his youth on the venerable organ. I expected him to reel off stats aplenty but instead he just barked at the throng with that over-manly, Andrew Marr-y voice of his – I do wish some editors were swishy and effeminate (Statesman columnist Julian Clary would be perfect) – and I haven’t a clue what he said, to be honest as I was preoccupied by Suzanne Moore's shoes (see below).
Best person of the evening, aside from Ben Dowell, the magazine’s erstwhile much-missed arts diarist and Open’s new arts diarist, was his guest Stephenie Booth, fourth wife of the actor Tony Booth, the father of Cherie Blair (sometimes Booth QC), wife of the former PM Tony Blair. “I expected you to have big hair,” I said in a Tourettes-y moment, gazing at her chic crop. “I expected great architecture on top of your head, hair sweeps, etc.”
Another woman might have taken offence at this but she was most sporting. She said: “Maybe you were thinking of Pat Phoenix – she had big hair …” Yes, may be. Phoenix was the late Coronation Street actress who played Elsie Tanner, Tony’s second wife, a beautiful lacquered siren of sorts who smoked a lot.
Stephenie and Tony are based in West Yorkshire and I think she said she stays over at Cherie’s when she’s in London – I may have got that wrong; party conversation is really wonky radio stuff. "I love my husband, he makes me laugh, he's so funny," she said. She is involved with a newish charity called The Great Generation so I look up the website later. Its mission is to “To help tackle world poverty, by encouraging and sustaining charitable giving.” For more click here.
To my surprise she and Tony are on good terms with Tony and Cherie, despite the former Tony's opposition to the Iraq war. To her surprise I was able to tell her that "Broonite" Geoffrey Robinson and Gordon Brown are not the best buddies of political lore, owing to all sorts of treacheries by the former Chancellor. “Yes, but then Gordon doesn’t have friends,” someone in our group observed.
As to the party itself, Virgin Media paid for the generous supplies of champagne (Tesco last year), Christine Hamilton and her idiotic bowtied husband hustled about, Sky’s political editor Adam Boulton padded on the periphery in cheap rubber-looking shoes with a red stripe up the back sole, columnist Suzanne Moore wore a complicated pair of fuck-me shoes – all 6in spikes and lacy ankle binds – Austin Mitchell MP held court in front of the throne and all sorts of other nano-journo and political stars huddled together in butt-out circles of shouting and mis-hearing.
In a gathering of left-leaning winners who eagerly embrace capitalism, the royal throne seemed entirely at home.