Thursday, 16 July 2009

Party animals

Peter Hain's Wales Office summer party in Whitehall last night had a distinctly retro feel to it.

Nye Bevan's mini-statue had been restored to its position alongside the ANC Mandela poster above the mantelpiece after 15 months in exile from government.

The guest list was a reminder of those who had worked with the Neath MP during his time at Gwydyr House, in Northern Ireland and on his Labour deputy leadership campaign. One former spin doctor described it as "a gathering of the living dead".

There was the odd celebrity or two at what was a thoroughly enjoyable gathering. As someone who played a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace process, Peter Hain is also one of the few people capable of bringing Lembit Opik and Sian Lloyd together in the same room even if the de-commissioning process there has somne way to go.

There was even a Manic Street Preacher - of the musical (James Dean Bradfield) rather than the Lord Roberts of Llandudno kind.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan denied she was measuring up for curtains ahead of the general election.

Her superstition about victory extends to declining all offers to spell out what she would do in the Wales Office. I forgot to ask whether she'd replace Nye Bevan with a likeness of Margaret Thatcher, although I suspect the answer would be "wait and see" (it usually is).

Taxpayers will be relieved to discover that the menu reflected the austerity of the times rather than the apparent approach of those International Business Wales civil servants who turn left on planes at our expense.

Catering was in-house, provided by civil servants. After 12 years of canape culture under New Labour, guests were offered a choice between crisps and peanuts.

John Redwood, one of Peter Hain's more frugal predecessors, would have been proud.

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