July 10, 2010 12:20 am

The Diary: Sarah Sands

A feature of top recent summer parties is a photograph of the trinity David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg not drinking. None of them has the demeanour of an Ian Paisley; all look like the kind of people who would normally be holding a flute of champagne. Yet the only drink publicly mentioned recently by Cameron is the beer he blokeishly bet with President Obama on the outcome of the US-England World Cup match. And Osborne sticks to orange juice while inviting the rest of us in his Budget speech to “drown our sorrows” on the lowered cider tax. As well he might. The Treasury needs all the help it can get from alcohol duties at the moment. Is this quite the right time to be setting a teetotal example?

The soft drinks dictum looks as if it has more to do with posh-boy paranoia than low-church conversion. A Methodist background did not stop Margaret Thatcher knocking back whisky in Downing Street. But, just as Cameron cannot wear a morning suit even to his sister’s wedding for fear of the ghost of the Bullingdon, so champagne has become political poison.

I realised the depth of the sensitivity about this at the last Tory conference, when prohibition was imposed on the Tories. To our mischievous pleasure at the Evening Standard, the picture desk found a photograph of Cameron holding a glass of champagne at a newspaper reception. From the hysterical response of the Tory press office, you might have thought we had rumbled Cameron at a Max Mosley party.

How long must the self-imposed drink ban continue? Will the coalition give us a symbol of hope with a little Christmas toddy? Or must we contemplate the alcoholic wasteland of a double-dip?

It must be especially irritating for party hosts. The Spectator party, where Cameron and Clegg were photographed clutching their orange juices like a young couple who had met on an Alpha course, used to be a rackety affair where the cheap white wine always ran out. One of the many contributions to the gaiety of national life made by the magazine’s former publisher Kimberly Fortier was to get champagne sponsorship for the party. The Cameron-Clegg picture strikes me, however, as poor brand advertising for the sponsors.

Happily, another photograph from the same party showed Cameron talking, slightly nervously, to Boris Johnson’s effervescent sister Rachel. On the night, two years ago, when Boris became mayor of London, Rachel’s description of events was widely quoted:

“It’s been champagne all night ... oysters, caviar, it’s been fantastic. God knows who is paying for it.” It all sounds a good deal more fun than today’s water and cuts bashes in Whitehall. Will the Tories ever be able to talk like this again?

At a City PR party, I glug down my summer cocktail and discuss with a former Clinton aide the political threat to President Obama from his generals. But surely, I ask, Hillary Clinton is still the most substantial rival? Politically faultless, suddenly popular, and still tapping on that cracked glass ceiling? And about the only person Stanley McChrystal did not insult. The aide said it was out of the question that Clinton would stand against Obama. He had behaved so graciously towards her when she lost the race against him and, in return, she is utterly loyal.

I have noticed that female ambition is often driven by grievance or slight, rather than being innate. The decision by Julia Gillard, Australia’s new prime minister, to stand against her old boss Kevin Rudd was an act of wounded exasperation. Obama has treated Clinton with a respect not always forthcoming from her husband, and it sounds as though she will not forget it.

We all know about the mission to wean the shirkers from state benefits. But the benefit trap is not exclusive to the less well-off. It is just that among the middle classes parents replace the state. Talking to my 18-year-old son, I have found myself using much the same persuasion as the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith in my proselytising. My son is making £6 an hour working in a pub. He spends the money drinking beer with friends on his nights off. At first he was proud and excited about his job but now some of the glow has worn off. He notices that many of his privileged friends are given money by their parents without having to earn it. This strikes him as a preferable state of affairs.

My argument is that, while his earnings may not be enough to grant him economic freedom, they do pay for the beer, which is about 80 per cent of young men’s spending. I will pay for food and lodgings but, I say, thinking of Duncan Smith, he must pay for his own entertainment. Work has to seem worthwhile.

The Harrier and Jaguar fighter jets hung in Tate Britain by the artist Fiona Banner might strike some as an anti-war statement by their creator. The Harrier is suspended from the ceiling, “bringing to mind a trussed bird”. The Jaguar is twisted and grounded. Banner says that there is a conflict between form and purpose. “That we find them beautiful brings into question the very notion of beauty but also our own intellectual and moral position.”

Like beauty, however, meaning is in the eye of the beholder. The first evening I surveyed these planes was at the gallery’s anniversary party, where artists and sympathisers knitted their eyebrows over the powerful anti-war message being conveyed. The next evening I returned to the gallery, this time for the FT’s glamorous midsummer party. On that occasion eyebrows were untroubled, everyone admiring, instead, the feat of engineering and the military achievements of the fighter jets.

My daughter, like every other teenager, is besotted by music festivals, and the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park was a musical nirvana. There was Coco Sumner, previously better known as a daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, of the band I Blame Coco, “right there, sort of cool but friendly and so near I could have touched her”, and Beth Ditto and Pink. Best of all, there was free stuff.

This turned out to be a pair of knickers which read, “I am chlamydia free.” “All we had to do was to pee in a tube,” said my daughter, eyes shining.

The media coverage of the Queen’s tour of Canada has been generally subdued, apart from when Prince Philip pulled an inappropriate face over native cultural expression. I have been following it intently, however. The Queen’s hats have been perfect throughout and of great personal use to me. On Saturday, my elder son marries his fiancée and I have a sort of non-exec role as mother of the groom. My outfit needs to be bright and cheerful without looking showy or, God forbid, blowsy. And, for the first time I can remember, I am wearing a hat. Naturally, the congregation’s eyes will be fastened on the creamy, sylph-like beauty of the young bride. But if they were to notice me, they would see that my hat is a dead ringer for the Queen’s.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard

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