Journalists in a feeding frenzy as tables are turned

Whatever else you might say about the Referendum Party, they keep a good table. And provide absorbing conversation to go with it, writes Paul Routledge.

Lord McAlpine, confidant of Baroness Thatcher, Sir James Goldsmith's most high-profile defector and bon viveur, entertained the press to a sumptuous dinner in the luxury Thistle Hotel on Brighton sea-front.

The wine was a Mouton Grandet, 1995 - "French wine made by Australians" the label declared confusingly. There was a choice of white or red. His lordship stuck to water, but it loosened his tongue all the same. "We are in unknown territory," he confessed. "There is a body of support. How big we don't know. It is a pure gambler's situation."

As he warmed to his theme the courses came and went. For starters,crown of melon with dainty wedges of pink grapefruit. For main course, a ranch- buffet of whole sirloin, spare ribs, poussin and jacket potatoes. "From the sea" came cold salmon, smoked trout and shellfish. More choice came from the Chinatown table: Singapore rice noodles, special fried rice, sweet and sour pork, chicken satay and sliced beef in black bean sauce. If you had any room left there were five different salads. The British press wolfed it down. Two French journalists declared it "awful".

Lord McAlpine toyed with a baked potato, throwing out gems between sips of water. On Sir James: "What you see is what you get. I think the man is quite brilliant. He has an immensely original mind. He looks at things differently."

On himself: "I regard myself as an eccentric. You can decide whether I am mad or not." On the Tory Party chairman: "I wouldn't see Brian Mawhinney if he was the last man living in London."

Lord McAlpine, dressed in a loud blue and red checked wool suit that would have looked well on a clown but was clearly expensive, was bonhomie itself. If his party made a clean sweep in the general election, he said, they would call a referendum on Europe and go home. "But then we'd have to run the country!" he chuckled.

As glasses of Mouton Grandet were drained around him Lord McAlpine grew ever more expansive. He had already admitted on television that the Referendum Party's intervention could hand power to Tony Blair. Would he like that? "No, most certainly not. I would feel very cross with John Major. All he has to do is give a referendum."

Nor does he see an early demise for his party. "We have to go on because we are committed to this aim," he insisted. "We will go on fighting until it is rendered unnecessary."

It was time for black cherry cheesecake or mango and chocolate mousse, washed down with coffee. Traditionally, journalists have to feed the politicians, not the other way round. Whether he gets his referendum or not, Sir James Goldsmith has broken the mould.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own