Bruce Anderson

Gossip from the top table

Golden-age gossip from Westminster’s top table

In the 1970s, when there were many fewer restaurants in London, Locket’s was much the best place to eat around Westminster. The IRA once paid it a compliment by -trying to bomb it. If a lobbyist -invited one to lunch there, it meant that a) his firm had a large budget, b) he was hoping for important information — or c) he was feeling like a good lunch. The food was a pre-nouvelle cuisine London version of sophisticated French food: dishes such as Tournedos Rossini or Steak Diane; you get the picture (the upper-middle-class version of prawn cocktail and Black Forest gateau).

Locket’s catered for trenchermen’s appetites, and I remember a couple of proper sessions there with Denis -Healey. I am not sure whether any politician lunches like that these days, and he did live to be 98. After Michael Foot had defeated him for the leadership, Denis was finding it increasingly hard to pretend to take his front-bench colleagues seriously. A budget was coming up. Dear old Footie had taken to reading the FT. ‘That is probably a mistake,’ said I. Denis nodded in vigorous agreement. ‘He is carrying around these yellowing pink cuttings. He thinks that they make a point. It is never apparent to me. He should stick to Jonathan Swift.’

There was also Barbara Castle, a delightful mixture of flirtation and cattiness. After confessing that I was a Tory, I was treated like an errant grandson. There was clearly a bond of respect and even affection between her and Margaret Thatcher. ‘In 1979, I wanted you Tories to be crushed underfoot. But I also knew that there would be consequences. Everyone would have said “That’s what happens if you choose a woman.” The cause of women in politics would have been set back for a generation.

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