Will we concrete over the countryside?

Here’s my weekly column from today’s newspaper, by the way. I have the feeling this could become a pretty big issue in Middle England.


A historic anniversary: 35 years since the opening of Britain's first McDonald's

As a resident of the London Borough of Greenwich, I am proud to live in a place stuffed with historic landmarks – buildings around which has swirled the eddy of Our Island Story.

Such as, for instance, the McDonald’s in Woolwich. Forget the Royal Naval College. It was the rather humbler environs of Powis Street, SE18, that witnessed – on November 13, 1974 – an event of far more importance in the shaping of modern Britain, the opening of the UK’s very first Golden Arches.

As you can see from the first menu, it was actually pretty expensive – 43p for a burger and 97p for a Quarterpounder With Cheese was quite a lot of money in 1974. But nothing, nothing could stop grease-starved Brits’ stampede for the Big Mac.

Thirty billion discarded plastic drink cups later, the restaurant is holding a special 35-year birthday celebration today to mark the historic event. Woolwich’s MP Nick Raynsford, the Mayor of Greenwich and someone even wackier and more famous than either of those two characters – Ronald McDonald himself – will be dropping in to the party.

It’s all here on the excellent Twitter feed of the restaurant’s manager, Taimoor Sheikh.  Share and enjoy!

Jack Dromey: this isn't the first time Labour has tried to impose a grandee on Leyton

After my story yesterday about alleged attempts to “parachute in” Harriet Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey, to the safe Labour seat of Leyton and Wanstead, someone from the Leyton Labour Party emails to remind me what happened last time Labour tried imposing a grandee in Leyton. (And no, I didn’t know members of the Leyton Labour Party were allowed to read the Telegraph either – surely a disciplinary matter?)

At the 1964 general election which brought Labour to power, Harold Wilson’s putative Foreign Secretary, Patrick Gordon Walker, lost his seat to a notoriously racist campaign by his Tory opponent, Peter Griffiths (slogan: “If you want a n—-r for your neighbour, vote Labour.”) Wilson still gave Gordon Walker the Foreign Office, but there was the small matter of finding him a new seat in Parliament.

Two months after the election the then Leyton MP, Reg Sorensen, was given a peerage in order to create a vacancy for Gordon Walker to fill. Perhaps not totally surprisingly, the voters of Leyton resented this crude attempt to manipulate them – and voted against Gordon Walker at the byelection, forcing him to resign as Foreign Secretary and permanently setting back his career.

Gordon Walker did win Leyton back for Labour at the 1966 general election. But the whole episode left a legacy, which still lingers, of independent-mindedness and resentment of central party interference in this seat. Could history be about to repeat itself?

Boris Johnson's end of an error

Buses on London's route 38 are to be liberated of the bendy bus (Photo: Daniel Jones)
Buses on London's route 38 are to be liberated of the bendy bus (Photo: Daniel Jones)

In the Friday the 13th movies (all eight of them – or possibly nine, I lose count) this is traditionally the day for mass teenage slaughter at high-school summer camps across America. London, however, is killing off something altogether more deserving.

Today, surely co-ordinated by some higher power, sees the long-awaited demise of two small things that made the capital just that bit more tiresome, that bit more dumbed-down. Just after noon, the very last Amy Winehouse and Peter Andre stories will appear in the very last issue of London Lite. Only the cat-litter trays will miss it. How can anyone else mourn a publication that cannot even spell its own name?

And just after 1am tonight, no doubt with memorial-issue Lites swilling around each of their floors, fifty or so bendy buses will die lonely, late-night deaths in parking bays somewhere near Hackney. Weeping crowds will not gather to mourn the historic event. Tickets for the last run will not change hands for large sums on eBay. A special bendy heritage service will not be operated for tourists.

The buses are from route 38, the first major service to be liberated from bendies and a key beachhead in Boris Johnson’s jihad to clear London of the invaders by 2011. There have already been two (entirely trouble-free) conversions of shorter routes, the 507 and 521.

In its new, double-deck guise, the frequency of route 38 will increase dramatically from tomorrow, and the number of seats on the route will more than double. But I predict that a few misguided nostalgics will still try to resist the march of progress. Much as certain Right-wing newspapers hark back to a 1950s golden age which never really existed, some Londoners still yearn for their own imaginary, vanished Arcadia – Ken Livingstone’s mayoralty. Moaning about the death of Ken’s bendies is the North London Left’s equivalent of complaining that the rot set in when women started wearing trousers in public.

The rest of us, however, can simply appreciate the rare spectacle of a politician, Boris Johnson, honouring a promise on which he was elected.