LETTER from THE EDITOR

The Referendum Party's choice of louche Brighton has caused much banter about the whiff of Regency big-money socialising that surrounds it
Click to follow
The Independent Online
It has been a sad and solitary editor's week, waiting for the phone call, pacing the hall in the darkness of early morning, desperately hoping for the barely audible thock! of cream-coloured envelope on leaf- encrusted doormat. But no. The invitation to pack bow-tie, sagging penguin- suit (more of a walrus-suit, in my case) and head to Brighton to party with the Referendum Party, has not come. All London is said to be going. All the in, intelligent, forceful and attractive people ... bar one, it seems. This despite the fact that The Daily Telegraph's peroxide-wigged ballet correspondent Boris Johnson has publicly announced that I am invited. The shame! The public humiliation!

Can this be because we are on the other side? Perhaps: the position of this paper is to be in favour of referendums on big constitutional issues, including British membership of the single currency - but thoroughly and implacably against the Referendum Party. We could, of course, have been bought for a glass of warm champagne But it is too late.

As it happens, I have met Sir James Goldsmith for dinner once, and was mightily impressed, though unconverted by his passionate hostility to free trade. He possesses extraordinary ice-blue eyes, whose gleam made artificial lighting unnecessary, and more interesting facts about 19th- century trade patterns than a well-stocked university library. These things are not necessarily a recommendation but I mention them to emphasise that he is, in his way, a formidable debater and would give most professional politicians a serious fight on television.

The Referendum Party's choice of louche Brighton for its rally has caused much banter about the whiff of Regency, big-money socialising that surrounds it. There really are parallels between then and now. The Prince Regent's salon was on the fringe of real power, a wealthy and perpetual annoyance closely connected by birth and friendship to the government of the day. So is Sir Jimmy's salon. He is connected to the Thatcher salon - Carla Powell, wife of Sir Charles Powell, Lady Thatcher's former adviser, is a Goldsmith cheer-leader. Lord McAlpine, the Thatcherite former Tory treasurer, is another. Goldsmith has plenty of mates among right-wing Tory MPs.

Thatcher and John Major were formally reunited at the Tory conference in Bournemouth, though these conference reconciliations are elaborately artificial affairs. (I heard recently that during the Thatcher years, there would be detailed and tense annual negotiations between her office and Ted Heath's lot about where the two outsize egos would ''accidentally'' meet; who would proffer the handshake, and so on.) And today, despite the Thatcher-Major reconciliation, the Referendum Party seems strikingly like the provisional wing of the Margaret Thatcher Tendency. No one makes much of this. But it is pretty rum. It is almost as if Neil Kinnock's former advisers and allies were currently working with Arthur Scargill against Tony Blair. Mr Major, playing the staid and disapproving William Pitt to Goldsmith's Prinny and McAlpine's Beau Brummell (well, no parallel can be exact) affects not to care. But he must be livid at today's jolly antics. Almost as hurt as I am, perhaps.

Some readers have complained about our use of the Clare Short story on the front page. It is not, admittedly, our normal page one fare. But it seemed a piece of genuine good news, a happy ending for decent people. And it's pretty rare that you get that on any front page, never mind our one.

Comments