Politics Magazine

The Complete Dinner Party

Posted on the 27 December 2012 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

I’m aware that I forgot to finish selecting my five guests for my imaginary dinner party. It is bad form to end a year and start a new one with unfinished work, and so I provide the completed article below.

Firstly, food. I have little interest or taste for fancy or artisan food. I like my food to be plain-flavoured, simple and above all, cheap. I’d like something that is fairly reflective of popular cuisine in Britain, so I’d opt for something similar to that which you’d find in Pizza Hut (if I was feeling particularly mischievous, I’d serve my guests a medium doner kebab each, but that might twist the concept of a middle-class style dinner party to breaking point!).

My first guest would be the late British Labour leader Michael Foot. He led the party from 1980-3, during which time his party split in two, and he led the party to its worst defeat for almost 60 years. Given these facts, it is unsurprising that history has been somewhat harsh to him. However, he represented a rare and admirable brand of politician whose absence from our political scene today represents a great loss. Foot was a left-wing intellectual who was simply too polite and gentle to succeed in media-heavy modern politics.

Michael was born into a middle class family of MPs, journalists and solicitors in Plymouth in 1913. He studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the elite University of Oxford, which is where he was converted to socialist politics, which he rose in from a very young age: at just 22, he was the Labour for the Monmouth seat, which he lost. Shortly after this, he moved to a career in journalism, working on both the Evening Standard and the Daily Herald (the Labour supporting tabloid which Rupert Murdoch cannibalised into the Sun in the 1970s). In 1945 Foot was elected to Parliament, joining Harold Wilson’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for Employment in 1974.

Margaret Thatcher defeated Labour by a modest majority in 1979, and Foot became Leader of the Opposition the year after. The party was under its most left wing leadership since it became a major political force, and with the New Right dominating the Tories, British politics was incredibly polarised. A cynic might say that the Labour MPs who formed a new party shortly afterwoods- the Social Democratic Party- were less interested in their overt argument that Labour was becoming too left wing, and more so in furthering their own political careers.

I could talk about 80s politics all day, so I shall try to keep to the point. Foot can be summarised as being representative of a political era which was dead by the point he was at his most influential. He had too much vision at a time when the public were rejecting idealism; he wasn’t polished enough for the harsher media glare that had developed; and his politics was too progressive in the age of inequality and “greed is good”.

Regaredless of why he is regarded as a failure, many of the the policies he argued for offered a better direction than the way Britain was headed, and were in fact good ideas. A minimum wage? Better regulation of the reckless banks? Action to reduce energy and housing costs? All advocated by Michael Foot. There is no denying that the man was a genius; the problem was that this doesn’t translate into electoral success. With that in mind, I introduce my next guest:

The Complete Dinner PartyMalcom Tucker is the spin doctor who stars in the political satire The Thick of It. Famous for his permanent state of fury and shockingly bad language, I am cetain that he would be a very interesting guest. Clearly based on New Labour’s Alaistair Campbell, the Scot has a highly cynical approach to politics and public relations- and way too much influence over them.

Tucker is one of the greatest bullies ever known, but like Life On Mars’ Gene Hunt, it is hard to dislike him properly because you are aware that he is loyal to the cause he serves. He might loathe the individuals within it, and indeed have such a depressingly cynical approach (one that would make for entertaining discussion) that it is hard to see any optimism in his mind, but it’s entertaining to watch the workings of an evil/misunderstood cunning mastermind such as Malcolm.

J. B. Priestley was born in Yorkshire in 1894. The son of a schoolmaster, he was determined to become a writer from childhood, and spent most of his pay from his first job as administrator for a wool firm, he eventually took up writing a newspaper column in 1912. He volunteered to fight in the Great War, and was fortunate enough to survive it unscathed, leaving the army in 1918 to study at the University of Cambridge. After graduating his writing career really took off, becoming a playwright, broadcaster and novelist. He had an optimistic view of the future of society, and quite a dark perspective on the existing class-ridden one, as demonstrated in his play An Inspector Calls.

www.jbpriestley.co.uk has a biography on its site, part of which reads:

In the 1950s he wrote with Jacquetta Hawkes a striking book about their combined trip to the USA; JOURNEY DOWN A RAINBOW. Unexpectedly he stood as an Independent in the 1945 General Election, and perhaps luckily failed to be elected. Though never a member of the Labour Party, he supported many of their policies and was encouraged by their landslide victory. His next foray into the political world came when an article he had written in the New Statesman attacking the folly of nuclear weapons led to the founding of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and he travelled the country speaking at numerous meetings. But he maintained the other strands of his career with his usual energy, producing one of his finest plays, THE LINDEN TREE, which had the best first London run of any of his plays, and arguably his best novel, BRIGHT DAY, recently republished as the first in a series of handsome new editions. He was influential in the establishment of the Arts Council, and lectured on the need for a properly organised Theatre. He was a UK Delegate to UNESCO, where he met his third wife, Jacquetta Hawkes, and presided over an International Theatre Conference. In the meantime he found time to write the charming DELIGHT, a series of short essays about all the things which he enjoyed; he was dissatisfied with the austerity and grimness of the post-war period, but celebrated the 1951 Festival of Britain with his comic novel FESTIVAL AT FARBRIDGE.

I think that I have now reached a good number of socialist intellectuals. My penultimate guest would be the somewhat obscure Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995) who until 2011 was the longest serving female US Senator in history, serving in Congress from 1940-1973 and making an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964.


She was a Republican with a conscience: in in 1950 she made a speech condemning the tactics of “Reds under the bed” McCarthyism- that is, the extreme Communist hunting undertaken in early-to-mid Cold War era America which rendered many terrified of being seen as remotely left wing, and excluding Communists from being proper members of society. Senator Smith took a dim view of the witch hunt that was taking place:

Surely these are sufficient reasons to make it clear to the American people that it is time for a change and that a Republican victory is necessary to the security of this country. Surely it is clear that this nation will continue to suffer as long as it is governed by the present ineffective Democratic Administration.
Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.
I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest”.

The impression that I have of this woman is that of a bold pioneer, prepared to go against the tide of right-wing thought not only as a woman, but as a moderate as well. It is people like her who fleetingly modernised conservative politics- albeit only in part. I’m sure I’d disagree with her on a number of issues, but I’m also sure that the debate would be interesting.

My final guest would be Carl Bernstein, who, together with Bob Woodward, is responsible for unveiling the truth about the Watergate scandal. I will not bore you with a biography, for I’m sure that you will be aware of the events surrounding his work on Watergate. It would be a pleasure to meet somebody who battled the FBI and editorial influence to do what he really cared about: getting to the truth and informing the American public (speaking of which; we’ve heard very little about the break-in to Ed Miliband’s parliamentary office. Just saying. If I disappear, you know I’m on to something!)

So those are the Fabulous Five: Michael Foot, Malcolm Tucker, J B Priestly, Margaret Chase Smith, and Carl Bernstein. I particularly look forward to placing a bet with J B as to whether Tucker will rant at Michael Foot for being an incompetent, scruffy, media disaster, or at Bernstein for being one of those [effing] journos who causes trouble where there doesn’t have to be any. Indeed I fear that I may have strayed over the line from a creating a combination that is… lively, to one that is explosive. And from my dinner party, I leave you with the image of Tucker being dragged out of my living room (no doubt with my dog licking his face) by an alarmed Margaret and Carl, as Foot and Priestly are busy hatching some sort of socialist journalistic venture, blind to their surroundings.

To complete my dinner party, I need to “tag” five others. Those who choose to accept the tag will write about their dinner party, in which they select five guests (who can be fictional or real, and from any time or place) and then tag the next five bloggers to do the same. It has been undoubtedly difficult to select a mere five, but here is my selection:

  1. The Uxbridge Graduate a serious and yet witty Labourite; I daresay we could expect an interesting dinner party from her.
  2. ProjectDreLA As the name suggests, Dre is a Los Angeles resident. Dre has quite a talent for entertaining writing.
  3. Alexander Aucott is a freelance journalist based in France. He’s quite pleasant, even if he is centre-right in political outlook!
  4. Living On a Slippery Slope The author of this blog has written on here before, so I need say no more about the high quality that you can expect.
  5. Loony Leftover A quirky and funny left-winger. I trust that her guests would be similar.

If you’ve read the previous 2,000-odd words, I have one thing to say to you: well done. Your reward is reading my wonderful work, and feeling educated as a result.

P.S. Hope you lot are having a wonderful Christmas like I am. It is at this time of year that it is most important to see how privileged we are, inclusive and beyond material wealth.

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