Theresa May must have been a little disappointed. Her government limousine rolled silently to a halt at the rear entrance to the Savoy hotel, she got out, and the only people around to witness her latest fashion statement were a top-hatted doorman and your Low life correspondent having a fag. She was again wearing what the Daily Mail describes as her ‘zany, patterned’ coat. I confided to the doorman how upset I was that she wasn’t wearing those shiny, over-the-knee S&M boots. Something about the doorman suggested a vast and perhaps dangerous hinterland that only a top hat and Regency-style coat could keep from spilling out into everyday life. He expressed agreement by distending his eyeballs and giving a discreet little spasm of ecstasy.
Theresa May came legging it up the steps and went in. ‘Here comes Boris,’ said the doorman, affectionately, out of the side of his mouth, like a soldier on parade as a beloved general hoves into view. Boris came cycling up, last to arrive, offered me his paw with stage deference, handed the doorman his bike, and went in. Together we silently studied the Mayor of London’s famous appendage. It’s a Marin, for those who know their Californian cycle manufacturers. The battleship-grey paint has either seen better days or a second coat of grey has been artfully applied to make the bike look unappealing to opportunist thieves. A battered old front light was loosely attached to the handlebar with frayed strips of Sellotape. The doorman carried it inside. I followed.
The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards were held in the ballroom at the Savoy. I found my name on the list and went to look for table three. I once went on holiday to Palermo in Sicily. The highlight of the week, by a long chalk, was a visit to the catacombs of a nearby Capuchin monastery. Down in the airy vaults were hundreds of long-dead bourgeoisie Sicilians, whose corpses, incredibly, had been perfectly preserved by the dry air. Many of them were dressed in all their finery and arranged in grotesque fully furnished tableaux, one of which was a small dinner party. The table next door to table three recalled to my mind precisely this ghastly sight. But table three, I was relieved to observe, a mixture of hacks and politicians, looked jollier.
I was hungry. But not half as famished as one man on our table. This polite and friendly man fell gratefully on his food the moment plate touched tablecloth and he wolfed it down ravenously, looking neither to the left nor to the right, as though he hadn’t eaten for a week. I found out afterwards that this was Amol Rajan, the new editor of the Independent.
After the food, a treat: a speech by the Mayor of London to introduce the award ceremony. It was like being at a Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown gig: virtually every sentence got a laugh. Then he stepped aside, placed his arms behind his back, and for the rest of the ceremony calmly regarded us and the comings and goings on the stage with a sort of dazed, all-encompassing love.
The acceptance speeches though heartfelt were, in the main, brief. We were steaming through the programme like a dose of salts. Ed Miliband had won the award for best speech; unfortunately he couldn’t be with us here today. A giant screen was revealed, and there was the Labour leader, 15 feet tall, projected against the wall. He was speaking from some office somewhere. The sight of this strange personality writ so large in the room made me inwardly quail. But his acceptance speech revealed a personality far removed from the carefully crafted, ludicrous public one.
For projected on to the wall in front of us was a man with a sense of humour and a gift for comic timing; a man as conscious of being comprised of paradox and prejudice as the rest of us. He read out an article from the Sunday Sport in which it was claimed that his Marxist father Ralph had run over a cat while coming back drunk from the pub on his bike. The ‘eye witness’ claimed finally that it could only have been the callous act of a communist — ‘a Belgian communist. The bastard.’ He repeated the word bastard with gusto. This other self of Miliband was a revelation. He must be mad to keep it shut away and offer us that mealy-mouthed ponce instead. Who does he think he is? And who does he think we are? Are all the major politicians’ public faces as contrived as Ed Miliband’s, I wondered? Is David Cameron, for instance, known in his innermost circle as a song-and-dance man? It was something to ponder deeply as we headed for the American bar afterwards for a small sherry.