Predictably, Ed Balls misses the point. Pompously declaring he’s “categorically” never taken cocaine, the self-righteous shadow Chancellor has worked himself up into a lather because the PM won’t say if he’s used class-A drugs.
At the time of the Tory leadership election, Dave said: “I did lots of things before I came into politics which I shouldn’t have done. We all did.” Good enough for me, but not for self-appointed puritan Mr Balls, who says it’s “unwise” to make allegations about the Rev Paul Flowers unless you reveal your own lifestyle choices.
Drugs aren’t really the issue here. Forget the rent boys, the alleged cocaine use, the indiscreet texts begging for threesomes with total strangers for cash – who decided Flowers had the right qualities needed to run a bank? A self-important minister and former local councillor with little relevant experience. A chap with as many qualifications for the task as me – and yet, financial journalists, bankers and City watchdogs all failed to notice for a long time that one of our national institutions was in the hands of an amateur.
I’m more interested in whether this public humiliation marks the beginning of a new trend – older people behaving like teenagers. For years, a section of our media has routinely demonised the young, portraying them as binge drinkers, recreational drug users, work-shy layabouts, illiterate yobs who prefer internet porn to real friendships. Now we discover that it’s the 40-plus generation who are the party people. They’ve got more cash, for starters. In the past few weeks, my illusions have been shattered – veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby (75) flaunts his first tattoo, the unveiling coinciding with the launch of his telly series about sailing. Then, the Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford (44, but looks about 64, probably because of his lifestyle), admits he “might” have smoked crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor”. He’s knocked down a councillor, driven while drunk, been accused of buying drugs, shouting obscenities in public, consorting with an alleged prostitute – all while in the office of mayor. Amazingly, Ford still commands a 40 per cent approval rating, according to a poll in the Toronto Sun, and 43 per cent would vote for him if he went to rehab before the next election.
Back home, Flowers is alleged to have gone from a grilling by a Commons committee to ordering a cocktail of recreational illegal drugs, with hardcore fun clearly in mind. Hardly the behaviour of the Saga generation of yesteryear, but why should baby-boomers be sensible just because they’ve got a bus pass?
Ten times as many people aged over 50 now regularly use cannabis as did in the 1990s. In the past year, one in 200 Londoners aged over 50 took cocaine, ecstasy or LSD. Many pensioners who still work will take drugs at the weekends, and good luck to them. When I was 21, I planned to put hash in my wedding cake. It was 1967, the Summer of Love. In the end, I couldn’t get any. I was given LSD and hash as wedding presents. So why are we surprised if some of my generation still fancies the odd bit of illegal fun? Tickets will go on sale soon for the Monty Python reunion show at the O2 arena next year. All in their seventies, they promise “simulated sex”. Why stop there?
Yesterday, Tate Britain held a free house-warming party to celebrate the gorgeous transformation of the galleries, and the clever opening up of the building to create new spaces. At the top, a new café and bar for members – although, at the opening party, some were finding the stairs up a bit of a challenge – and an impressive Grand Saloon over the main entrance which would make a great place to get married. A new spiral staircase from inside the entrance leads to a café and the wonderful Whistler restaurant, although the Art Deco-inspired balustrade seemed a bit clunky for my taste. The best part about this rebirth is the hanging of the collection in chronological order. Works by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud look stunning, but Jacob Epstein’s monumental Jacob and the Angel is worth the visit alone.
In the restored entrance, I met the sculptor Michael Sandle, standing by his impressive Der Trommler (The Drummer) showcased under the Rotunda. “What do you think?” he asked. It was a knockout. Will the Tate be brave enough to buy this unfashionable artist’s 1988 piece A Mighty Blow for Freedom: Fuck the Media? What do you think?.
Blow to fashion
Somerset House has become a pilgrimage site for Alexander McQueen fans. A new installation showcases the life and wardrobe of Isabella Blow, in a series of highly theatrical settings. What comes across loud and clear is her sense of high drama both in her choice of outfits for photoshoots and shows and her juxtaposition of bonkers accessories – high English eccentricity with a twist. The work from the graduation shows of Philip Treacy and Alexander McQueen – whom Issy championed from the outset – is breathtaking, and I left thinking that most fashion seems to have gone round in ever-decreasing derivative little circles ever since.
David Cameron might talk of “green crap”, but in Norway they take environmental concerns seriously. Army bosses there have decided to introduce meat-free Mondays for all serving troops to reduce the carbon footprint. There are plans to extend the initiative to all overseas postings, although there is no information available about how men and women in uniform reacted to the plan. Environmental campaigners Future in Our Hands are pleased: they have been highlighting the amount of meat the average Norwegian eats in their lifetime, claiming it adds up to 1,147 chickens, 22 sheep, six cattle and 2.6 deer. Is there any chance of Philip Hammond adopting a similar proposal? Why not scrap the green levy on fuel bills and instead enforce meat-free Mondays in schools, hospitals, public buildings and the armed forces canteens? You know it makes sense.
I’d love to know the membership of the committee that chose Ed Miliband’s Desert Island Discs. Call me a cynic, but every choice seems designed to send a message to wavering Labour voters. “Look at me, I might be a nerd, but I’m normal, just like you! Sod Shakespeare, I want Douglas Adams and a takeaway as my luxury item!” Given his level of achievement, his education and his highly intelligent parents, Ed has gone to enormous lengths to eliminate anything that might hint at an intellect. In truth, he reveals very little. Scratch the surface all you get the blindingly obvious: “Jerusalem”, because his parents loved England; “Angels” because he loves his wife; “Sweet Caroline” because he loves the Red Sox; and “Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf – a not very subtle hint to sulky brother David.