Sarah Sands: Why do we all have to fawn over the rich?


Magazines have a different, more generous style of coverage than newspapers, but I was a little suspicious of Glenda Bailey's account of her visit to Moscow in the current issue of American Harper's Bazaar. "Moscow is marvellous," writes Ms Bailey, the magazine's English editor, and the Russians "the most luxurious people in the world, possessing more Birkin bags per person than Rasputin had lives; if there's anything Russians appreciate more than the finer things in life, it's the things that make life fine. Their passion for culture is equalled only by their hospitality and generosity".

The Russians are also highly praised in the current edition of Tatler. It is true that Alexander Lebedev, the Russian oligarch who owns 30 per cent of Aeroflot, threw a stupendous party at Althorp this summer for the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation. I have never been to a party like it. Guests included Orlando Bloom, Sadie Frost and many dazzlingly dressed women, a few of them ill-matched to their male partners. But then I have never seen so much money on display, some of it a bit rough and ready.

The people of Russia may know something of literature and ballet, but what delighted them most that evening were the pole dancers in rubber shorts and with faces like miners.

The charity auction that followed was for a good cause, but it was disturbing to see baby-faced Russians bidding hundreds of thousands of pounds as if it were a week's pocket money. I have been similarly grudging in the past about the adoration heaped on Philip Green for his famously high bids at charity auctions. I want to protest chippily: "Well, of course you can be big-hearted, because you live a lot of the time in Monaco."

The influx of Russian money into this country has altered the social scene. It has replenished our private schools, revived the art market, made the high end of the housing market even higher, introduced yachts into our vocabulary, and reinvented Chelsea Football Club.

Many people suck up to the rich - the Labour Party most of all. I know I am strangely cheerful in their company. As the American right-wing commentator David Frum once said to me: "Part of you thinks they might turn round and just give you some money."

One just wishes English society could disguise it better. Does it have to be so blatant in its approval? I do not know whether Moscow is "marvellous". When I last tried to go, I experienced such heavy-handed treatment over the visa - the choice is endless bureaucracy or an extortionate fee to a private agency and only some hotels are "recognised" - that I changed my mind. Russia is, at the same time, magnificent, crude and sinister.

But then I suppose English society is still firmly based on Trollope. You only find out what people really think of you when you have no money.

A tale of decline and scheming. Sounds familiar

For those of us who take our summer holidays early, August counts as autumn. The fact that the trees are losing their leaves already seems a fitting rather than a freaky consequence of the drought. I am itching to get back into winter black and to work harder. The start of the football season can't come quickly enough.

Everyone is better for a nip in the air. A high-ranking British Army officer said to me the other day that the winter will do more for the soldiers in Afghanistan than extra helicopters: the Taliban can't stand the cold.

Best of all, it's the new publishing season. I have already finished Robert Harris's forthcoming novel Imperium, which the author describes as "Blair's Government in togas". I am sure the Prime Minister also has the book tucked away somewhere on his catamaran in Barbados.

It will be a key text in the forthcoming battle for the leadership succession. It tells you as much about politics as Machiavelli.

Its theme is the nature of power and how it can be snatched. It is the story of the rise of Cicero, a clever Roman lawyer who sees that every cause has a subtext. Public issues are also political manoeuvres. Nothing must be taken at face value. As Metternich is supposed to have said on the death of Talleyrand: "Now I wonder what he meant by that."

Cicero marks himself out with some spectacular gambles. He operates outside the established hierarchy, creating a new power base. This wrong-foots the more traditional methods and support of his rival. The comparison with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is obvious. Cicero's timing is also superb. Knowing when to show your hand takes a kind of political genius.

Cicero is at his best with his back against the wall. When he is losing, he is winning. Blair and David Cameron both raise their game in adversity.

When Cicero finds that he has been outwitted by a rival lawyer, he acts on the first principle of politics - start a fight and see where it leads. Both Brown and John Reid are willing to start fights in order to throw up the cards, but Blair remains master of the surprise. The final lesson of power is that eventually, always, it is lost.

It's a fine line between an expert and a megalomaniac

As I was cycling home the other day, a woman wound down her car window. "Do you know how many heads a day I sew up?" she asked.

I know that the NHS is under great strain and that surgeons can feel under-appreciated. So I put on my most sympathetic frown and waited for her tell me.

"Wear a helmet!" she snapped, before driving off.

The woman clearly had an informed view on the subject of cycle helmets, but it is not illegal to ride without one and I was exercising a personal choice. I thought it rather strident and superior of her to throw her job at me. I do not stop traffic wardens filling in parking notices and say: "Do you know how many articles I write a day? Learn how to spell! "

The tyranny of the expert was best illustrated this week by Gina Ford. The deputy editor of this newspaper swears by her teachings and has well-behaved children to prove it, but her uncompromising advice can get on people's nerves.

The contributors to the website for mothers,, experienced the thrill of making fun of a know-it-all and one suggested that Ms Ford was tying children to rockets. You can imagine the community of mothers giggling and egging each other on.

Now mumsnet is being threatened by Gina Ford's lawyers and is banned from mentioning her name. That is the trouble with experts: it is not enough for them to be right; they have to be unchallenged. It is a fine line between an expert and a megalomaniac.

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