Friday, October 17, 2008

The politics of the ’eighties

Terry, our MD, is planning to retire and is slowly divesting himself of the few clients he continues to handle. Most of these are on the PR side, which means none of them will be coming to me (I’m not very good at PR). However, the new Account Director still isn’t in place, so Terry took me along to a meeting to “act as a bridge” (?).

Afterwards, at five o’clock, we paused on the pavement and he said I might as well go home as it wasn’t worth going back to the agency. He said he was meeting a Tory grandee from the 1980s. On impulse I said I would also like to meet him, and so I got asked along (as easily as that!).

We went to the Carlton Club at 69 St James’s Street. The building is Georgian, built in 1826 to a design by Thomas Hopper, and renovated in 1925–6 by E. Turner Powell. The front is of Portland stone, and is realatively simple and plain with four arched windows and a modest arched entrance on the right.

We went through the front door into a passageway with a desk at the end. Terry told the clerk the name of the person we were meeting. We waited about ten minutes until the Tory grandee (large, waist-coated, maroon bow-tie with small white spots) appeared and signed us in.

Inside there was a central staircase with two main rooms on each floor. The decoration was derived from classical Greece. As we went through the building I noticed enormous mahogany doors, architraves decorated with rosettes, fireplaces of gold-veined black marble, a decorated frieze below the staircase cornice, Corinthian pilasters of scagliola, free-standing borders of anthemion etc etc.

The Carlton Club is the historic home of the British Conservative Party, and in every room there are paintings and relics of past Conservative leaders (although David Cameron has refused to join the club on the grounds that it is too stuffy and old-fashioned).

Above: the drawing room on the first floor (notice the “orbs” in this picture – I have previously dismissed the idea of “orbs” but now I am not so sure, especially as they cannot have been marks on the lens as they do not show on the photo of the noticeboard I took a few minutes later).

We went up to the first floor and into the front room which was sort of drawing room. The whole club was almost deserted. We sat down in a corner and the grandee told me “Ted” used to sit in the chair I was occupying.

Tea was ordered – very good quality.

I asked the grandee about politics in the 1980s:

“People think the nineteen-eighties were entirely dominated by Margaret, as if she came from nowhere, but the politics of the ’eighties were a product of the breakdown of consensual politics in the ’seventies. By bringing down the government of Edward Heath the miners cleared the way for Margaret. I’d go so far as to say that Margaret Thatcher was directly created by Arthur Scargill – one would not have been possible without the other…

“The other thing to bear in mind is that there were two political coups in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. A successful coup by the right in the Conservative Party and a failed coup by the left in the Labour Party – failed except for Ken Livingston who seized power from Andrew McIntosh in the GLC...”

After about forty minutes I said I had to go. The grandee showed me out. Terry remained in his seat.

Above: at the foot of the stairs was the Club noticeboard.

Above: I noticed that Gavin Esler (Newsnight presenter) is talking to the Young Members of the Carlton Club on Monday evening).

Above: part of the failed coup in the nineteen-eighties was Liverpool “militant” Derek Hatton.

Above: Derek Hatton was an early influence on current Culture Secretary Andy Burnham.

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