Lunch with... David Mellor

Written by Jess Bowie on 16 June 2014 in Interview
Interview
The former culture secretary turned broadcaster lunches with Jess Bowie

This article is from the June 2014 issue of Total Politics

A minister under Thatcher and Major, Mellor became, in 1992, the first ever secretary of state at the Department of National Heritage, now the DCMS. After only a few months in the post, however, revelations of an affair, fuelled by the tabloid machinations of Max Clifford, forced him to resign. Mellor is now a successful broadcaster, music critic and businessman.

The restaurant

Sartoria

Tucked away among Savile Row’s tailors, Sartoria’s cream décor and ample windows make for a bright, airy dining experience. The food is a nouvelle-cuisine take on traditional Italian fare – and is delicious.

The menu

Starter Artichoke salad, almonds, rocket, lemon

Main Rabbit, tomato, taggiasche olives, calabrian spicy sausage, watercress; aubergine millefoglie, buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil

Dessert White nougat and milk chocolate semifreddo

We drank Bisol Jeio Prosecco NV; Chianti Classico Rodano

We discussed

The DCMS It’s a serious issue now whether it’s too small to be effective. With that number of civil servants – just a few hundred – it’s hard for it to be a viable department. That said, I’m not aligning myself with the neanderthal wing of the Tory party who dismiss anything to do with culture.

Sajid Javid as culture secretary He’s plainly very able. I don’t think that the arts have the right to demand that a secretary of state, who’s also got to deal with press regulation and a raft of other things, must be someone who knows all of Pinter’s plays by heart. Sajid couldn’t have got to where he is from where he started if he wasn’t exceptionally gifted. I’ve not met him, but I have high hopes of him.

Javid’s DCMS predecessor I reserve particular venom for the late, unlamented Maria Miller, who had no right to lead DCMS, had no interest in the arts, but also no interest in much else, and no capability to actually do well at the job. She didn’t even seem to be a particularly pleasant person. If Cameron and Osborne were football managers, picking teams like that, they’d be sacked after the first game.

Max Clifford There were two elements to the appalling behaviour of Max Clifford. One was sexually assaulting young women, the other was selling stories to papers that only had a core of truth, onto which was put a huge amount of disgraceful, offensive lies. As a believer in a free press, I found it depressing that none of the red tops admitted their role in that. The Sun, who knew they were publishing lies – lies about me, and about others – had some big headline after the sentencing saying ‘8 Years for Clifford’, as if relishing it. Did they say “and we’re sorry we used this obvious sleazebag to sell us stories which we knew at the time were lies, and now we’ve cleaned up our act”? They didn’t.

Iain Duncan Smith I resigned from the Conservative Party when he became leader because someone rightly characterised by John Major as a bastard didn’t strike me as a worthy leader of the party. I thought he was too stupid to do the job and simply not up to it, a judgement history I think has found to be true. He’s probably not up to the job he’s currently doing.

UKIP To understand UKIP, first we have to consider Signor Berlusconi, who became a laughing stock for his bunga bunga parties – and I keep going to bed at night asking ‘why wasn't I invited to his bunga bunga parties?’ – but people forget that when Berlusconi was first prime minister of Italy he was seen as a good thing, he was seen as a major industrialist with the common touch, owning A.C. Milan and all of that, who swept aside a completely corrupt and discredited political class in its entirety, which he did. Now when you think that's what the Italians did to their political system when they got fed up with it, one can begin to see Nigel Farage in a more charitable light.

If I think back, my first proper election was in 1970 as a candidate's aide. I learnt a lot in that election. In those days, people had strong loyalties to particular parties. You could be on the doorstep and say something about a policy and a voter would agree, but then say 'But we're Labour'. And that was a firm thing. Now it's all changed. I believe that disillusionment with the parliamentary system and with party politics has become a serious threat to the future of this country.

Against that background, if the public are looking for a bucket to spit in to express their contempt for the political class, Nigel Farage is quite a harmless bucket, even if he has crazy followers. The danger for this country is if anyone more malevolent were to arise.

Farage regularly comes on the programme I do on LBC with Ken Livingstone and I've got to say, I find him a very likeable man. If I've had a heavy day and I had a chance to have a drink with David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage, I'd be in the pub with Farage, not a second thought.

David Cameron He’s an extremely intelligent man but somehow never manages to rise above a fairly spurious public-relations-man view of the world. You asked earlier what's required of a culture secretary. It would be a help – but is not essential – that a secretary of state for culture has some cultural dimension, but, you see, my old constituent Lord Hailsham would say that every politician worth his salt has to have a cultural dimension, because that's what politicians always had – some knowledge of the great literature, you know, Disraeli...

I also think that casting governments and political leaders like you're casting extras in an old Hugh Grant rom com, it doesn't make any sense. And actually I think our parliamentary system is sick, ill – potentially terminally ill. People just don't believe that politicians can solve problems.

Perfect for Re-fuelling after a tiring suit-fitting

Not suitable for People who despise Italian food (if they exist)

The cost Two courses for £25, or three for £30, from the set menu

To book a table at Sartoria call 020 7534 7000

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