This article is from the December 2012 issue of Total Politics

Who? 

Peter Snape, Labour peer and former MP for West Bromwich East (1974–2001). Former opposition frontbench transport spokesman, and veteran of the Labour Whips’ Office in 1975–79 during Jim Callaghan’s minority government. Before entering politics, he worked as a railwayman and served in the army. 

The restaurant 

Gillray’s

Tucked up in the top corner of the Marriott Hotel in County Hall, Gillray’s is a lavish, relatively secretive steakhouse. Despite its luxurious menu and formidable views of the Houses of Parliament, it has the relaxed atmosphere of a brasserie.

The menu

Starter: Corned beef and bacon hash; artichoke soup. 

Main: Bone-out sirloin steak and chips; bone-out fillet steak with peppercorn sauce and chips; cheese-filled Yorkshire puddings.

Dessert: No room for dessert, but the sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble looked tempting.

We drank: Homemade lemonade at the bar; South African Western Cape Pinotage with lunch.      

We discussed

Railways I don’t honestly think ministers can be blamed for the botched West Coast Mainline bid. The fact is, each of these documents is about 450 pages. You can’t expect ministers, junior or senior, to read it; they’re dependent on the advice they get from civil servants. On the day that this was announced, I was interviewed by BBC News and I said with any justice in the world, a permanent secretary would fall on his sword, because it’s his responsibility, not the ministers’, to look at it in this fine detail. The only advantage of old age in the House of Lords is I can say what I think.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is one person showing that the Tories are in connection with Earth. He didn’t go to Eton like most. All too often, particularly with the Tories, transport is seen as a stopping-off place for somebody on the way down or a stepping-stone for a bright young man on the way to the top. It’s never been highly regarded as a place to work for either politicians or civil servants. 

Career politicians Politics is different from my time. When I was elected, back in 1974, you had Harold Wilson, people like Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn, Denis Healey, people with real intellect and meaning. Whether you agreed with them or not, you had to respect them. In recent years, it’s been much more of a path – school, university, researcher, MP, cabinet… it’s a short course, and it leads to legitimate criticism.

Parliamentary sketchwriters Even some of the finest sketchwriters are deplorable. You could tell the sketchwriters in my day actually liked Parliament. Today’s political sketchwriters despise the people they write about, to be honest, because 99 per cent of them – Quentin Letts, to name but one – were public schoolboys. I wouldn’t give him the time of day. I’d just say, ‘Fuck you.’

The newspaper industry My generation is one of great readers. My father was a rail man; it helped that he could get his hands on lots of newspapers, so there were always lots of books and newspapers at home. TV has partly replaced that, and we’re worse off intellectually. The print press is out of control now – take Rupert Murdoch: he’s done more damage to democracy around the world than any dictator or general in my lifetime. I read The Daily Telegraph, which I know is anti-Labour, so I can filter out those views. I find what the enemy is up to very interesting.

Perfect for

Anyone, from professionals at the bar with laptops to politicians straying from Parliament to excitable tourists on a break from the Aquarium. As long as they’re not vegetarian.

Not suitable for

Those who want to grab something quick and light. The menu is varied, but the meals are predominantly heavy and rich. 

The cost

Pricey, but good quality. Most steaks around the £30 mark.

To book a table at Gillray’s, visit www.gillrays.com or call 020 7902 8000

Tags: Gillray's, Issue 53, Lord Snape, Lunch with