Tories sing for their supper. (But what have they got against the River Cafe?)
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Saturday 10 October 1998
So Peter Lilley, the party's deputy leader, aimed astutely when he included the River Cafe in his hymn to New Labour.
The 11-year-old riverside hostelry in west London, with its glass and chrome interior, has a clientele that has included the likes of David Bowie, John Mortimer, Jeremy Paxman, Will Self and Martina Navratilova. If that isn't sufficiently stellar, then it is also said that Greta Garbo once dined there.
Its glamorous owners, Ruthie Rogers, wife of Labour peer Richard Rogers and a radical in the Sixties who assisted Vietnam draft-dodgers, and her friend Rose Gray, have reached the top of the bestsellers' lists with their River Cafe cookbooks. They travel regularly to Italy to choose their farmhouse food that no Italian farmer could ever afford.
It is so emphatically New Labour that they sent a takeaway around to the Blairs on the night of their election victory last year. Dinner for two can cost about pounds 90.
Mr Lilley delighted conference yesterday, saying that a Labour version of Land and Hope and Glory had been "leaked" to him. "They call it `Land of Pseudo Tories' and it goes like this:
Land of chattering classes, no more pageantry
Darlings, raise your glasses, to brave modernity
Who needs Nelson or Churchill? The past is so passe
Britain's now about Britpop and the River Cafe
God, this place is so frumpy, let's be more like LA!
Mr Lilley paused as the audience cheered, only to continue: "Not to be outdone, [Chancellor] Gordon Brown has tried to trump his neighbour [Mr Blair] with a new version of Rule Britannia":
Cool Britannia, where saving costs you more
Unless, like Geoffrey Robinson, your Trust's offshore!
Hardened observers declared it the most embarrassing platform performance in living memory, easily outshining his own past effort at Gilbert and Sullivan, parodying I Have a Little List from The Mikado, when he was social security secretary.
The general manager of the River Cafe, Ms Gray's son Ossie Gray, was surprised but pleased. "Perhaps we should send the Tories a thank-you letter," he said.
"If what Mr Lilley is saying means that people are more discerning about the choices that they have to make in life, then we're happy to be a part of that. But we have a hugely mixed clientele. I'm afraid to say that most people's choice, when it comes to food, is thoroughly apolitical," he added
Ruthie Rogers and Rose Gray were both in Italy yesterday, thought to be on the lookout for new recipes - something that Mr Lilley could no doubt have turned into a witty refrain.
Conference reports, pages 10 and 11
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