To the Saatchi Gallery last night after a plaintive call from a Labour Saatchi person (oh yes, they exist) to say the Saatchi and Saatchi 40th anniversary bash was a bit of a Tory wipe out.
Hardly surprising, given its ‘Labour isn’t working’ role in helping Mrs T way back when and she and lots of her ministers were there – John Major, Ken Baker, Norman Lamont, John Wakeham among them – amid dozens of good-looking women from advertising clearly glad that ‘Mad Men’ was back on the screens.
In his speech, Maurice Saatchi was humble enough to say he owed his success in large part to the fact that Mrs Thatcher, now wheelchair-bound and rather frail-looking, if still with that unmistakeable hair, put her faith in the company he started with his brother Charles.
There were hundreds of people there, and it was too hot, but I had some very enjoyable ‘all our yesterdays’ chats with some of the politicians I used to cover as a journalist and then take on as a political campaigner.
Ken Baker seems to have aged the best. He was as irrepressibly upbeat and happy as ever, and gave me this piece of advice … ‘Never ever stop working’. I reminded him of a previous piece of advice he gave me, when Tony Blair hired me in 1994 … ‘Nobody can do that job for more than four years!’ He roared with laughter, said ‘you did well to ignore me, you sat at the TOP TABLE OF HISTORY and loved every minute.’ He waved away my protestations about how much I loved it.
Lots of them seemed to be reading, or have read, TB’s book, and were enjoying it. Lots were talking about Andy Coulson. His problem would seem to be a sense of disbelief (among politicians and journalists) that he had no idea the phone-hacking was taking place when he was editing the News of the World. Old heads now worry about whether David Cameron has ever sought to establish the truth himself, with an eyeball to eyeball chat with his communications director. Because if anything emerges to embarrass Coulson in any of the inquiries into all this, Cameron’s judgement will also become an issue. Interesting too how current Tory MPs were saying that the real issue was how widespread illegal practices may have been, and not just at the News of the World. Press regulation is definitely on the political agenda, and it could be Tory MPs pushing hardest for it.
Of the current Cabinet, I only saw Andrew Lansley, who said he was loving every minute of being Health Secretary. Good to see the NHS Direct campaign making progress incidentally. But not for the first time in a room full of political strategists, the most telling observation I heard was from Philip Gould.
He is as irrepressibly chirpy as Ken Baker. But I think he may be onto something when he says that between them the Tory Party and the media managed to persuade a lot of people that Britain had become a terrible place to live. It is not, it is a good place to live. But the cuts planned by the coalition government – George Osborne added a few more billion to them yesterday to make the BBC’s Nick Robinson feel good about driving up and down the A1 with a perspex box – will make it a much worse place to live for quite a lot of people who will suddenly realise they have lost things they valued.
That is the challenge Saatchi’s successors as Tory strategists should be thinking about. They do seem a bit sidetracked by Andy Coulson right now, but I think Philip has a point.