Last night, we went to the Black and White Ball, sponsored by the Conservative Party. The event brought in more than 1200 revelers, all decked out in gowns and tuxedos. It was a black tie affair, but curiously, the guest of honor – Conservative candidate for Prime Minister, David Cameron – wore no tie at all.
We were seated at a French-speaking table, which put us in a critical mood. First, the crowd seemed oddly young. It was as much a fund raising event as a celebratory one and young people don’t usually have much money to give away, and even less to celebrate. But the average age here seemed under 40. In America, a similar bash would bring out a doddering class of rich Rotarians. But these people were not only young, but rather hip, eschewing the typical black tie for what looked to us like outfits left over from Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. And the women! Instead, of America’s plump 50-somethings, many of these women looked like movie stars.
Then, the entertainment began with a choreographed circus act, in which pretty girls dressed in shiny body suits dangled in the air from long bolts of fabric. They arched. They bent. They turned and twisted. We were not sure what the point of it was…but after a while, it didn’t really matter.
The candidate seemed young, attractive and smart; and his speech was smooth, positioning himself and the party as modern, ‘caring conservatives.’ And here too the Atlantic seemed to widen. There were no flags flying, no humbug about making the world safe for democracy or protecting freedom, no mention of supporting the military…and only a single word about the war in Iraq.
Mr. Cameron had gone to Iraq to visit the troops. There, he stopped into a hospital where a British soldier was lying face down on his bed, having been hit in the derriere by shrapnel. Making conversation, William Haig, accompanying Cameron, offered this reflection:
“Well, soldier, what a week you’ve had. You get hit in the backside by shrapnel and then you get to meet the conservative candidate for Prime Minister.”
“Yes…” replied the young man, “the two events are about equal.”
The 100th British soldier was killed in Iraq this week and sentiment against the war, and Britain’s involvement in it, seems to be rising.
Generally, the English have a more sober view of terrorism than Americans, probably because they are closer to it. Most of the terrorists since 9/11 have held British passports. And most English people believe that terrorism is better fought with tighter border control and stricter immigration laws at home rather than wars in distant places abroad.
“Militarism is really only popular in America,” said a French friend. “At least in the developed world. Almost nobody in France, Britain, Germany or even Japan would consider a defense budget like the United States has. Filmmakers in these countries do not make movies glorifying soldiers. They only fly flags on national holidays. And no politicians win votes by supporting military adventures.”
David Cameron focused his speech on making Britain a better place to live…and achieving this by cutting taxes, reducing regulations and allowing individuals, families and private companies to mind more of their own business. This was a theme that appealed to us; for once, we saw nothing to disagree with or make fun of.
After the speech, there were a number of fundraising efforts…including a silent auction for various extraordinary prizes. In keeping with the temper of the times, among the things you could bid on was something called “Work at a Hedge Fund.” The last time we looked, someone had offered 5,000 pounds for the opportunity. No doubt, a year from now, the winner will probably be managing $10 billion and be building a house in Greenwich, CT.
Also on offer were a race horse, a ‘home makeover,’ a week’s vacation in Nepal, and various other items we never knew we needed. Elizabeth bid on some of them; fortunately, she bid too low.
Then, the entertainment started up again. And once again, the Conservatives seemed to get ‘off message’ almost immediately. A tall, blond American cross-dresser, called something like Dee Dee from Dixie, went up to the microphone and opened with the kind of foul-mouthed schtick that used to get comedians arrested. And then another circus act – this time, a beach-clad girl wowed the audience by keeping several hula-hoops going to the tune of some appalling disco music. After that, the wrap-up band came out and played the kind of music you hear at French weddings or Russian funerals – including the Gloria Gaynor staple, “I Will Survive.”
But the evening was still a great success.
“That was a lot of fun.” Elizabeth passed judgment, as we staggered out of the cab and back to our apartment. “I wouldn’t have chosen those entertainers, but the food and wine were very good and everyone was very companionable. And that man I was sitting next to was a member of parliament. I enjoyed talking to him.”
Good food. Good drink. Good company. So what if our Crash Alert flag is flying? We’re going to enjoy ourselves.