Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A long lunch, with Simon Hoggart

Simon Hoggart is the Guardian's parliamentary sketchwriter. Last week he came to Edinburgh to talk about his memoir, A Long Lunch, which charts his career observing the daily workings of Westminster. We sent Charlotte along…

Originally Simon Hoggart wanted to call his new book Booze, but his clever wife persuaded him that A Long Lunch might be more apt. Revealing a passion for wine drinking, Simon recounted amusing stories with famous authors and politicians, often making fantastic impressions of his subjects. The audience lapped it up, responding with laughter and cheering woops at the saucier tales.

After university Hoggart became a journalist with the Guardian newspaper in Manchester before moving to their Irish base some years later. Following three years in Ireland he requested relocation to London and, in particular, to the politics department where he is today. Through his work he has met every Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan. 

Delivered with impeccable comic timing, Hoggart spoke of many different amusing incidences, such as the time when prolific poet W H Auden sat in his family kitchen and discussed in detail the greatness of Kenwood mixers with his mother. 

Another anecdote was set at the Westminster press gallery Christmas party, where the children of journalists and from the nearby school were invited and the guest of honour was Margaret Thatcher. There was a young boy crying in the corner. The then Prime Minister asked the child what was wrong, to which the boy replied: ‘They’ve given me blancmange, and I don’t like blancmange.’ to which Thatcher responded: ‘That’s what parties are all about, eating food you don’t like.’.

When questions opened to the floor, Simon revealed that phone hacking is very wide spread, especially in the tabloids. He questioned if the MPs were using it as revenge for the expenses scandal and believes that it could eventually collapse the entire Murdoch empire as we know it. 

Hoggart ended the event with a detailed description of David Cameron’s bald spot, comparing it to a goujon of plaice from Marks and Spencer, much to the amusement of the audience.