Talking Politics in London


I returned from London last week after a whirlwind trip of reporting for Vanity Fair and seeing old friends. It’s funny how the very second you get off the plane at Heathrow, life seems to slow down compared to Manhattan’s frenetic pace. (Unless, of course, you are Naomi Campbell and Heathrow baggage-handlers have lost your luggage…)One of my stops was the cozy Notting Hill house of British shadow chancellor George Osborne, 37, and his auburn-haired wife, Frances, who has just written a best-selling biography, The Bolter. The book, which is about Frances’s oft-married great-grandmother, Lady Idina Sackville, is due out next spring in America. The conversation wasn’t all politics at the Osborne abode. After red wine and takeout, George cracked the Indiana Jones whip he’d bought for his 7-year-old son and described the boy’s delight when he received the plaything. Truth be told, the toy seemed to be giving the boy’s youthful-looking father considerable pleasure as well. Every time the whip cracked, the theme music from the movie played.

The great thing about this couple, whom I have known for many years—Frances and I have been friends since we were teenagers—is that they never take themselves too seriously, unlike many Americans of equivalent status. I remember I was once telling George some story about my life in New York, when he began searching for a pen and paper.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Making notes for the literary or film-writing career I’ll have to develop when my political one fails,” he deadpanned.

But he’s not going to fail. The current Labour government is highly unpopular in Britain, and chances are the young Conservatives will be the next government, and George the next chancellor.

Monday took me to the set of Harvey and Bob Weinsteins’ movie Shanghai, a period thriller set in 1941 starring John Cusack, who is showing an unswerving determination to highlight both the death toll and fiscal cost of the war in Iraq, as well as the iniquity of profiteering from the war.

He films all day, then stays up all night, either to go on shows like MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann to promote his film War, Inc. (still remarkably holding up despite its miniscule marketing budget), or record anti-McCain television commercials for

On Olbermann’s show last week, Cusack said he wouldn’t shut up until Obama is in office and Bush was impeached. You have to hand it to Cusack—the man fights for what he believes in.

Speaking of Bush: I also went to Scott’s, the new “it” restaurant in London, where my companions included the British historian Andrew Roberts and his wife, financial publicist Susan Gilchrist. They were looking forward to dinner at 10 Downing Street with the president and first lady, along with Rupert and Wendi Murdoch. I later learned that Roberts was seated next to President Bush, who has invited him to dinner at the White House before his term runs out. To prove how serious he was, Bush wrote down his personal phone number.

Now all I have to do is ask Roberts for it, give it to Cusack, and watch what happens. I’d pay for tickets to see that—wouldn’t you? Their exchange would likely make Naomi Campbell’s airport outburst look tame. V

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