Traditionally, the Black and White party is a chore for the party’s senior figures, a drab affair that resembles an explosion in a cummerbund factory with lots of talk of “Rhodesia” and Enoch. This year, Anya – Designer of the Year – had transformed the venue in Battersea Park into a series of gardens, all beautifully illuminated, each with a theme (I was in the Quinlan English Country Garden on a table with Sam Cameron, Helen Taylor and others). The attention to detail was breath-taking – here was a potting shed, here a gazebo, here a gypsy caravan (were those the orange tips of illicit cigarettes I saw in there? Surely not). Even the packets of seeds and books had been specially designed. Relaxed, chic, imaginative: was this really a Tory Party event?
Dave gave a very good speech in which he deftly invited the guests to imagine how, many years from now, they would look back upon their efforts in 2008, and (prospectively) in the first term of the next Conservative Government, and ask if they had done enough. This “anticipatory-retrospective” strategy paid off, focusing minds on the magnitude of the task ahead. Cameron is getting better and better at this sort of thing.
Meanwhile, much discussion about the Conway affair, and a general sense that the party had taken a hit, but pulled together in accepting that the system would have to change, whatever the personal inconvenience involved. A fair amount of argument about tax, the consensus being that the party should not stick to Labour’s spending plans, especially if the election is not until 2010. And much fretting about Tory dress code and the merits of “tielessness” (see Tamzin Lightwater’s Diary in today’s Spectator for more inside gossip). David Willetts, Andrew Mitchell and I (all tieless, as were Dave and George) discussed this with uber-moderniser Nick Boles – who was wearing a tie. Does this mean that tielessness, once the badge of the Tory mod, is now passé? Nick intimated as much. I suppose that makes me a traditionalist, then. I like the tieless look, damn it.
Hats off to Anya, surely destined for high office as a minister for culture in the Cameron government. The Cameroons like to talk about “non-electoral milestones”, the defining moments which have nothing to do with votes or polls but tell you nonetheless that you are on your way. This was one such milestone.