A few days late, perhaps – but amply justified by the material – let me draw your attention to a fine confrontation on BBC1’s This Week between one of my favourite London MPs, Diane Abbott, Michael Portillo, and that twinkly old charmer, Alastair Campbell.
The former Chief Persuader produces his usual denials that he abused and bullied people (“balls… absolute bilge”) and is then told by Portillo that he’s personally heard it happen while waiting for a radio interview. Abbott joins in: “You can still see the bruises on them… Your modus operandi was about bullying.” Campbell: “I know you don’t like saying good things about the Labour government.” Abbott: “Oh, here we go.”
It’s really quite funny to see how thin-skinned Campbell is and how riled he gets. Asked later by Abbott whether he’ll be helping in the election campaign, he snaps: “I’ll probably help more than you do, Diane.” Abbot, silkily: “I’m certainly turning people out to vote in my own constituency, many of whom were worried by some aspects of what you represented in the Labour Party.”
Legendary stuff – which Alastair has curiously failed to mention in his equally-legendary blog. Never mind, you can see it here.
Nick Griffin’s decision to stand against Margaret Hodge in Barking at the next general election might, just might, turn out to be another example of the BNP’s legendary capacity for unforced error.
True, in 2005 Barking gave the BNP its best parliamentary result ever – its candidate, Richard Barnbrook, got 16.9 per cent, and was just 27 votes away from coming second. True, nine of the 30 councillors in the wards which make up the seat are BNP – and there would probably be more if they had stood candidates in every ward at the last local elections. This part of London is the heartland of the British far right, something metropolitan liberals often forget when congratulating each other on the capital’s multicultural tolerance.
And true, Hodge has been a weak MP. Until only a few years ago, she didn’t have much of a presence or a proper office in her constituency. She is loathed by many in her own local party. She has said some incredibly stupid things that have played straight into the racists’ hands.
But if the BNP’s secret weapon is the behaviour of some of its opponents, its saving grace is its own incompetence. Griffin may not realise that things have changed in Barking since 2005. Hodge has upped her game organisationally, opening an office, campaigning quite hard on the ground and ruthlessly purging her local party enemies (though this last could still backfire – many of the people she has got rid of are rather good, and justifiably very unhappy with her).
More importantly, Barking is now a good deal more ethnically mixed than it was four years ago. Griffin’s opponents have a larger anti-BNP vote to call on, if they can get it to the polls. BNP support is often strongest in places where the ethnic presence is comparatively small, or comparatively new. That was the case in Barking in 2005; it is less the case now.
If I were Nick Griffin, I would have skipped Barking and gone for next-door Dagenham and Rainham, which is demographically at the stage Barking was when the BNP started to make headway there.
Yes, Dagenham does have an excellent Labour MP, Jon Cruddas – who really gets it about how Labour, particularly London Labour, has stopped talking to the white working class. And yes, Cruddas has been an active ground presence in his seat far longer than Hodge has in hers. But against that has to be set the work of the Boundary Commission. In the new redrawn Dagenham, some of Cruddas’s best wards have been taken out of his seat and some classic Essex Tory country in Rainham has been added in.
The BNP will be hindered in both Barking and in Dagenham by the general expectation that the Tories will win nationally, which usually tends to depress the far Right vote. In Dagenham, the risk, with a big name like Griffin, was still probably not that the far Right would win the seat, but that they might take enough votes off Cruddas to let the Tories through the middle. It could still happen – Labour has a tough fight here – but the man breathing slightly easier today will probably be Jon Cruddas.
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!
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?
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.