New Labour's Christmas bashes come to aid of the party season

Labour's first Christmas for a generation in power is being accompanied by a renaissance of festive parties. Kim Sengupta watches the glitter return to political soirees, as the Government sails through stormy waters.

Christmas is approaching at New Camelot. Champagne flows, the lights are bright and the conversation brighter at Downing Street. There are Cherie Booth and Tony Blair, graciously welcoming guests. Chris Evans, would-be media magnate, arrives with Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of a rather more established one. Zoe Ball talks to John Thaw, as scores of lesser-knowns gaze at the glittering rooms, political stars and networking celebrities.

Near by at the Commons, New Labour's united front is under intense pressure in a welter of outrage over the cutting of benefits to single parents. There are tears, recriminations and resignations, a sense among many backbenchers and some ministers of betrayal and loss.

But the little local difficulty has not stopped this becoming a vintage year for political parties. There is a marked contrast, say those who attend, to last year, where parties thrown by a doomed Tory government "had all the cheer of a concert on the Titanic when they have already seen the iceberg".

After the 18-year march through the wilderness, Labour is laying on the style. Just as soirees by the Democrats in America were deemed to be more fun than those of the Republicans, Labour is judged to be simply better at throwing parties. Big and small, glitzy and more humble, they are erupting up and down Whitehall.

One of the best-attended was thrown by Robin Cook at the Foreign Office's Locarno room, built as a "drawing-room for the nation". A French guest said it was one of the best he had ever been to, noting a mood of "optimism and vibrancy " which had been missing in recent years.

Chris Smith's party for the Department of Culture Media and Sport,held at the National Gallery on the same night, lost some guests as a result, though those there had a free run of the Van Goghs, Monets and Cezannes to distract them. A journalist from a right-wing newspaper, asked at the Foreign Office whether he would be going to Mr Smith's party, responded: "Like Goebbels, whenever I hear the word culture, I want to reach for my gun". Picking up another glass of wine, he reflected: "Not a bad bash is it? If they go on like this I will even warm to this gibberish about ethical nuking or whatever they go on about".

Pressure groups say New Labour's advent has led to renewed interest in political activity among showbiz personalities, exemplified by a freedom- of-information bash last night, due to be attended by the likes of Harold Pinter and and Bianca Jagger. Celebs may awake with aching heads and dry mouths. But at least, they can reflect, they are doing their patriotic duty by the new establishment.

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