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Dave Hill: Corbynism’s familiar failings have been on full display in London

It’s like watching a minor early 1970s rock star playing his greatest hits yet again, knowing there will always be an audience just big enough to validate him. An adoring audience, too. They have come to Islington North from far and wide: the young with their impatience and their angry ignorance; the old re-filling their mugs of umbrage and parading scars from past betrayals; the single-issue obsessives; the seething conspiracists; the slightly weird.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The martyr to purity is back on the protest road he’s walked so many times before, commanding the small stage where he is most at home, basking in the guaranteed applause. His “people power” campaign to retain his place in parliament, backed, as ever, by activists for whom being unrepresentative of those they say they represent is a matter of pride, has been exactly the revivalist festival you would expect.

Behold, the ancestral themes: the Battle of Orgreave; NHS “privatisation”, a cause far more important in such circles than making unwell people better; and, of course, Palestine, an unbearably intractable foreign policy issue that, for one reason or another, excites much more passion in this milieu, usually reductive and sometimes sinister, than, say, the suffering in Sudan or Vladimir Putin’s fascist invasion of Ukraine.

“Jeremy” sticks to his principles, you see, although accepting that the interests of those he claims to want to help would be better served if he had different ones is not among them. He “stands for” equality, democracy, justice and peace, his admirers insist, but they don’t mind his turning a selectively blind eye to the actions of some who stand for the extreme opposite of those things.

Policy practicalities, difficult dilemmas and the sometimes uncomfortable responsibilities that come with serious power are all rendered irrelevant beside the pleasures of declaiming that you “stand with” a wronged underdog whose stubborn sticking to a peculiarly abstract notion of moral rightness enables you to hosannah him as an authentic bearer of grassroots truth, even that means making life easier for those you say you most repudiate, such as the Conservatives.

Will this revivalist recipe, this fundamentalist adherence to the same Old Time Religion that propelled Corbyn to the Labour candidacy for the disastrous (for Labour) general election of 1983, carry him to victory as an Independent on Thursday? The evidence we have is that it probably won’t, although it cannot be ruled out.

To the east, in Chingford & Woodford Green, an idol of the Church of St Jeremy, is making her own bid to impede the Labour Party. Unlike Corbyn, Faiza Shaheen has next to no hope of winning – she has no decades as the sitting local MP behind her and is nothing like as well-known. But she stands a chance of attracting enough votes that might otherwise have gone to Labour’s Shama Tatler to enable the long-serving Conservative incumbent, Iain Duncan Smith, to cling on.

Shaheen finished a close second in 2019 – 1,262 votes behind – and, ironically, would probably have won had Labour been led by anyone other than Corbyn. She was re-selected by local party members to fight the seat again, but blocked from national level at the eleventh hour.

Well, have a heart: if you had come that close last time and were gifted a second go, this time with a much better chance of winning, you might be hacked off by such treatment; so hacked off, in fact, you might decide to run as an Independent, even if that meant improving a hard right Tory’s hopes of winning. And that, of course, is what Shaheen has done.

A less sympathetic view is that going round saying how great “Jeremy” is even after Labour had suspended him and then, soon after the election was called, claiming that Gaza was the “number one issue” in a seat whose history and demographics suggest the Middle East is a very long way indeed down its list of priorities, invited trouble loud and clear. Shaheen’s televised protestations of shock and dismay suggest, to put it kindly, exceptional naivety.

What’ve seen from her campaign has revealed and typified the decades-old failings of the Corbyn tendency in London politics, just as much as has Corbyn’s own a couple of boroughs away.

Consider, for example, her fans’ insistence that she is the choice of “the community” – a classic case of the sorts of people who go to political meetings or on demonstrations pretending or imagining that their’s is the voice of the majority.

Complementing this is the use of funny numbers to make an implausible case for her own “people-powered” battle plan. The other week, Shaheen hailed on social media a graph purporting to be “based on a poll” of over 4,000 voters in the seat showing her in the lead. In fact, according to one of her supporters, it was a visual representation of a set of canvassing returns – in other words, as polling expert Rob Ford put it, not a poll at all, but a set of numbers that is anything but a scientific sample of the seat’s voters.

Sheehan’s response to such objections was instructive. The graph depicted “real conversations on the doorstep”, she said, and should therefore be regarded as definitive. Her Wikipedia page says she has an MSc in research methods and statistics. You do the maths.

The Shaheen fan who went “wow!” about those fishy figures, by the way, chairs the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, founded in 1962 and long supported by Corbyn, who described the death in 2016 of Cuba’s authoritarian leader Fidel Castro as the passing of a “huge figure” in the history of socialism. Other observers gave more attention to the long and continuing story of political repression and human rights abuses in that part of the world under Castro and since, with trade unionists and women among the regime’s victims. Corbyn, characteristically, prefers to make light of such flaws. Shaheen also has George Galloway’s Workers’ Party and the Socialist Workers’ Party on her side. There’s just so little about her campaign to admire.

The saddest thing about this strand of London’s political weave – it can be found elsewhere too, but has deep roots in the capital – is that some of its goals are good and some of its adherents are good-hearted people. Its chronic failing, though, is self-indulgence – indulgence in delusion, in denial, in introverted, narcissistic sanctimony and – where it can get dark and creepy – in placing ideology above inconvenient realities of every kind, be it regarding housing supply, the NHS or certain situations overseas.

In spite of years of evidence to the contrary staring them in the face, those on this part of the political spectrum continue to assert that they are in touch with the true needs and desires of “the many” – even if those people, victims of “false consciousness”, don’t realise it themselves – and that anyone on the Left who begs to differ must be a sell-out, a collaborator with oppressors and corrupt. The abuse directed at Tatler and Corbyn’s Labour rival Praful Nargund has been repellent.

Though presenting themselves as virtuous, inclusive builders of a better world for all, Corbynites and their like are too often inward-looking, selfish and destructive. That is why Labour under Keir Starmer has been right to treat them sternly, and why Labour wins in Islington North and Chingford & Woodford Green on Thursday would be reasons to rejoice.

OnLondon.co.uk provides unique coverage of the capital’s politics, development and culture. Support it for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill. Photo: A street in Islington North.

Categories: Comment

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Wimbledon

The Wimbledon tennis tournament will be attracting back and front page headlines next week, but the constituency which includes the famous venue is set to make news on its own account on Thursday.

Wimbledon is a top Liberal Democrat target, with the party looking to overcome the majority of just 629 votes by which Stephen Hammond held the seat for the Conservatives over their candidate Paul Kohler in 2019. And Labour, despite trailing by more than 7,000 at that election, is still in the race too, making the constituency a genuine three-way marginal.

Former investment banker Hammond, 62, a moderate Remainer who briefly lost the Tory whip in 2019 over his opposition to a “no deal” Brexit and briefly considered running as an Independent, isn’t back for the fight. He joined the Tory exodus in September 2023, citing increasing caring responsibilities for his and his wife’s parents.

Hammond took the seat in 2005 after its brief Labour spell from 1997, holding on in 2010, 2015 and 2017 while Labour and the Lib Dems alternated for second place in the generally well-off, well-connected, and in 2016, 70 per cent Remain-voting, commuter suburb. It was, perhaps, his anti-Brexit credentials that saved him in 2019.

But the momentum which almost took the Lib Dems to victory last time has continued. The Merton Council wards covering the bulk of the constituency shifted significantly from Tory to Lib Dem in the 2022 borough elections, with the party taking a 38 per cent share against the Tories’ 29 per cent. A boundary change helps too, adding parts of neighbouring Kingston, where the Lib Dems have been in the ascendency.

Kohler, an academic, long-term resident and now one of those Merton councillors, is taking his second shot at the seat. He made the news himself in 2014 when he was attacked in his home by burglars, an incident which he says inspired him to enter politics. In 2018, he led a successful legal challenge to the planned closure of Wimbledon police station. His pitch, he told a recent hustings, includes a commitment to rejoining the European Union.

Wearing the Tory rosette is Danielle Dunfield-Prayero. Like Hammond, she is a former investment banker and consultant. She is also a two-time triathlon competitor for Great Britain and chief executive of Great Sussex Way, the marketing organisation for Chichester.

Dunfield-Prayero describes herself as a “One Nation” Conservative, and on her website emphasises that her husband is a “true Wimbledon native whose roots run deep in this verdant soil”. Underlining the knife-edge nature of the seat, she has been joined on her campaign not only by Rishi Sunak but also by Theresa May, David Cameron and several other cabinet ministers too.

Labour contender Eleanor Stringer grew up in Wimbledon, faced hardship when her father’s business collapsed in the 1990s recession and has spent her working life in not-for-profit organisations, notably the Education Endowment Foundation tackling educational disadvantage. She is currently deputy leader of Merton.

There seems to be no love lost between Labour and the Lib Dems, who now constitute the principal opposition on the council, with 17 seats to Labour’s 31. Labour recently moved its campaign headquarters into an office next door to that of the Lib Dems and the parties have clashed over bar charts.

The recent flood of MRP polling has put the Lib Dems ahead, but there have been significant variations, with Labour highlighting the Ipsos poll of 16 June which put them just one point behind the Lib Dems. But tactical voting websites are recommending a Lib Dem vote and party leader Ed Davey has recently called on “traditional Labour voters” in the seat to help deliver the “knock-out” blow to the Tories.

Financial Times analysis last week suggested that Labour, while not diverting local activists away from the constituency to campaign in marginals elsewhere, was not directing activists to Wimbledon from safe seats elsewhere either. Stringer nevertheless continues to fight a vigorous campaign. It’s too early to call game, set and match to any of the three contenders.

X/Twitter: Charles Wright and OnLondon. Support OnLondon.co.uk  for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details here. Aerial photo of Wimbledon Village by way of @WimbledonVil

Categories: Analysis

Julie Hamill: See you, Jimmy

Being a Scot in London amid the Euro football fever reminds me of 1996, when I took my Dad, Jimmy, and my nephew Liam (then, aged 10) to the old Wembley Stadium to watch England vs Scotland. Also present was my English boyfriend Paul, who had to sit in the away end with three Scots, in the thick of the party people.

The only way to get tickets for the game was to apply to the Scotland Supporters’ Club’s Scotland Travel Club, which involved membership and a fee. So myself and my dad joined the Tartan Army and were able to secure four tickets, which were sent down through the post. It really was as easy as that, which seems incredible when you consider there were 200,000 Scotland fans in Germany without tickets.

The Scots love to dress up and why not? There is never a day in the week where we are not up for displaying pride in our country, so my Dad donned his full kilt regalia and so did Liam, both looking as tartan as their blood. Paul remained as reservedly English as possible – carefully showing no allegiance – and I wore my brand new Scotland top. My Dad completed his outfit with a “See You Jimmy” hat – a tartan bonnet with orange hair sticking out the sides.

On the way to the station a guy across the road shouted ‘All right, Jimmy?’ and my Dad gave him a wave and a smile. This perplexed young Liam, who couldn’t believe that a stranger knew his Granda. His little chest puffed out in the knowledge that he was attending the game with Granda Jimmy, a popular celeb in London.

We kept our heads down on the Tube and didn’t get a bit of bother. Liam remembers alighting at Wembley and seeing thousands of English fans wearing plastic bowler hats of the St George cross. The atmosphere was truly exciting, and you could feel it in your fingers and toes, because English or Scottish, everybody else was feeling it too on this bright warm day.

We had fantastic seats behind the goal in the away end, the green of the pitch lush and bright in the sunshine and the other three sections all blanketed by England supporters. The Scottish fans were on their feet singing and dancing, but not Paul, who very quietly sat down, like the majority of the English who simply stared and, I think, enjoyed watching this Scottish spectacle, a bit like looking at Vegas from the air.

Scotland fans have a healthy dose of reality, so to be nil-nil at half time really spread our elation further into the electric blue sky. The singing was louder, the smiles wider, the Mexican waves aplenty and the dancing was, well, we’re Scottish, we just can’t help it. A few songs were sung, including “Hoots Mon! There’s a Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose” which had arms encircling arms in the rows.

Liam remembers the music from the Guinness ad, “Dancing Man”, which took our moves to new heights in a kind of “walk of life” square dance. My Dad recalls how the voice on the loudspeaker called out, “Aaand that was the Scottish fans, now let’s see what the English fans can do!” The DJ played some music the English might like, but they didn’t sing.

Until they scored.

“Your not singing anymore,” they chanted, and we weren’t. If you’ve ever blown up a balloon then let it go, the second half was that on repeat. The Shearer header, then the missed chance to equalise, with McAllister’s penalty being saved by Seaman. “The ball moved!” (for which Uri Geller claimed credit). And then that soaring, sheer brilliance from Gazza (see above). I felt sorry for Paul, who had to suppress his joy at winning and sat on his hands with a zipped mouth.

We were beat, but we loved it.

(And anyway, somebody had seen Jimmy).

Julie Hamill is a novelist, a radio presenter and more. Follow her on X/Twitter. Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE.

Categories: Culture

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Uxbridge & South Ruislip

The by-election for this seat held on 20 July last year produced clinching proof that road user charging makes politicians go mad.

Brought about by the disgrace, downfall and resignation of Boris Johnson, first as Prime Minister and then as the seat’s MP, the contest was framed by Steve Tuckwell, Johnson’s local successor, as a referendum on Sadiq Khan’s latest expansion of London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone, which was due to come into effect in a few weeks’ time.

Labour’s Danny Beales was expected to win, though, writing for On London, elections expert Lewis Baston warned that it wasn’t a done deal. Beales or his team got nervous two weeks from the vote, resulting in a shift from a “listening” position on the issue to calling for a delay. But in the event, Tuckwell clung on by under 500 votes, just about swerving a strong swing against him.

It was an ominous result for the Tories. Yet, despite that and Labour securing a huge victory elsewhere on the same day, Keir Starmer’s horrified response to Tuckwell’s narrow escape ensured it was the main media talking point for days. Meanwhile, few highlighted the dishonesty of Tuckwell’s campaign, which, helped by materials masquerading as coming from “the local community”, gave the impression to voters that anyone owning a car would have to pay a ULEZ charge.

The truth was that the vehicles of about 85 per cent of local car-owning households were already ULEZ-complaint and around 20 per cent of local households had no car at all. The obsession with the ULEZ reduced the debate to a quarrel about who could be most appalled by a red herring. And now that the expansion has been operating for close to a year, many who voted for Tuckwell in order to oppose Khan will have worked out that they were conned.

That might explain why, in March, Tuckwell launched a petition for bringing a fish and chip shop to the centre of Uxbridge. Perhaps he had simply forgotten voting against just such a thing in 2019 as a member of Hillingdon’s planning committee. Whatever, a Labour colleague had no trouble remembering it or, indeed, with bringing Tuckwell’s U-turn to journalists’ notice.

Some people claimed the true aim of the petition was to gather data for Tuckwell’s mailing lists in advance of a return bout for Uxbridge & South Ruislip that he is less likely to win. Terrible thing, cynicism. Tuckwell, incidentally, continues to sit as a Hillingdon councillor. That could be fair enough for now, but might also be sign of him hedging his bets.

Can anything stop Beales, a councillor in Camden who grew up in Uxbridge, taking his revenge next Thursday? The seat’s boundary with neighbouring Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner has been adjusted, meaning the solidly Conservative Ickenham & Southfield ward has been added, though parts of the equally Tory Eastcote and Ruislip wards have gone. It’s worth remembering that this area has a history of being more loyally Conservative than might be expected. And Hillingdon as a whole has been more resistant to Labour’s gains in outer London areas than some.

All that said, Beales has to be a hotter favourite than he was this time last year, when he almost got over the line. Things look worse for the Tories now, the ULEZ fox has been shot, and it looks like Tuckwell will very soon have had his chips.

OnLondon.co.uk provides unique coverage of the capital’s politics, development and culture. Support it for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill.

Categories: Analysis

Election 2024: Constituency profile – Beckenham & Penge

Outer London’s south east constituencies have long been Conservative strongholds. But demographic shifts coupled with some significant boundary alterations could see that changing this time round, particularly in the new seat of Beckenham & Penge, which is firmly in marginal territory.

Its predecessor constituency, Beckenham, had been Tory-held since its inception in 1950. Colonel Bob Stewart, after a distinguished military career, became its last MP in 2010. In 2019, he held the seat with a majority of 14,258 – 54 per cent of the vote. But the new seat includes three wards that were previously in neighbouring Lewisham West & Penge. These are more urban areas than are found the still-suburban south of the seat, and comfortable Labour territory.

Labour has also been improving its representation on Bromley Council, which covers the whole of the parliamentary seat. At the 2022 borough elections, the Tories retained control of what has traditionally been their safest outer London borough, but lost 14 seats in doing so. The final tally was 36 seats for the Conservatives, with Labour gaining four, taking their total to 12, and the Liberal Democrats and independent candidates eating into the Tory majority too, taking five seats each.

The Tory overall vote share in those elections went down to 38 per cent, compared to 30 per cent for Labour. That was Labour’s best ever result in Bromley, and a clear sign that the Conservative fortress was no longer impregnable.

But most significantly for next week’s constituency vote, Labour led by 13 points in the council wards that now make up Beckenham & Penge. The mainly white and generally well-educated professionals and commuters, home-owning and car-owning, who live there are no longer predominantly true blue, it seems.

Vigorous Tory campaigning against Sadiq Khan’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone expansion didn’t shift the dial in last month’s mayoral election. Bromley, along with neighbouring Bexley, was one of the five councils to mount an ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge to the scheme. But no swing towards the Tories was recorded in the London Assembly election for the two boroughs.

There’s been another change too: as in other seats in the region, voters won’t be seeing a familiar name on the ballot paper. Stewart was chosen in March of last year to again be the candidate, but surrendered the Tory whip in November after being found guilty of racially abusing a protester during a demonstration outside a Foreign Office building. His appeal against this was successful and the conviction was quashed, but ahead of that verdict the 74-year-old confirmed that he would not be fighting another election.

Stewart’s successor is local councillor Hannah Gray, once a professional opera singer and guest presenter on the QVC shopping channel, now a business consultant and two-term mayor of the borough. Her campaign had an early hiccup when she was forced to recall a leaflet featuring a picture of a senior local police officer. The Met had complained that it had been used without their knowledge and suggested the officer was supporting the candidate, in breach of electoral rules.

The Lib Dem candidate is another local councillor, Chloe-Jane Ross, whose website says she was inspired to enter politics by her opposition to Brexit. She contested the old Beckenham seat in the unusual circumstances of the 2019 election, doubling her party’s vote share to 16 per cent, mainly at Labour’s expense.

The Labour contender is Liam Conlon, also a resident in the constituency. He works for an education company, chairs the Labour Party Irish Society and is also the son of Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray. A campaigner on disability issues, he was himself disabled as a teenager following an accident that left him unable to walk for four years. At 17, he became one of the youngest people in the country to have a hip replacement.

With the winds of demographic and boundary changes behind him, as well as substantial party support for what is now a key Labour target seat, Conlon looks to be clearly in pole position this time round. The long years of blue domination of this part of south east London may soon be over.

X/Twitter: Charles Wright and OnLondon. Support OnLondon.co.uk  for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details here. Photograph: Foxtons.

Categories: Analysis

John Vane: The view from the vet’s

I ought to spend more time hanging around on street corners, because that way I would be able to observe more of what people who hang around on street corners do.

I have reached that conclusion because I took one of my cats to the vet. The surgery is on a corner where an alley meets a high street adjacent to a zebra crossing. Bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters whizz in, out and across, making pedestrians swerve and jump.

During the pandemic, when we pet-owners and our furry friends had to queue outside the vet’s, tripping over each other’s cat-carriers and dog leads as we took evasive action at the sudden, rapid approached of bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters, it was the junction of nervous breakdowns.

The good thing is that the vet’s waiting room has picture windows, so you can sit and watch the world outside without appearing weird. Appearing weird is everyone else’s job. When I say weird, I mean troubling or perturbing. I also mean depressing.

As my cat mewed to be let out of her carrier – no chance, not after the grief I had getting her in there – I watched a man, a scruffy man, maybe in his thirties but looking older, busy doing nothing outside the mini-market opposite, looking up and down the pavement and around.

A young woman approached the shop. The man approached her. He spoke to her. She spoke back, carrying on with trying to look at the fruit displayed outside. He spoke to her some more. Her body language said ‘please go away’. Bikes, e-bikes and box bikes hurtled past.

The woman went inside the shop. The man approached another man, spoke to him, got a shake of the head in reply. The man approached another women. Then, another man. Still nothing doing. He went into the shop. I craned my neck, wondering what might happen next.

What happened next was real life confirming what they say about pets taking after their owners, or vice-versa.

Already, there was an elderly woman on the other side of the waiting room sitting silently, almost invisibly, looking sort of in my direction without acknowledging me.

She had an upright cat-basket at her feet in which her cat sat silently, almost invisibly, looking sort of in my direction. Or maybe my cat’s direction.

Then, a small, young woman came in wearing what my team of female fashion researchers (see footnote) tells me is called a “romper” and trailing a tiny, fluffy, cream-coloured dog behind her, which perhaps doubles as a powder puff or feather duster in its spare time.

The man who had been busy doing nothing had not emerged from the shop. I wondered what he was doing in there. I wondered if I resemble my cat.

The vet called out my cat’s name. My cat went through to the consultation room, attached to me.

When we came back out, the elderly, silent woman, like her silent cat, appeared not to have moved. Perhaps she was only there in order to observe through the picture window the behaviour of people who hang around on street corners – and people in the vet’s waiting room – without appearing weird.

In the latter respect, I fear she failed, though I concede that my judgement was subjective.

The scruffy man had come out of the shop and resumed looking up and down the street, and all around. My cat and I left the vet’s, taking care not to catch his eye.

We made our way back to our home, at one point coming up behind a man walking very slowly along the pavement, swaying slightly from side to side, muttering to himself.

As my cat and I overtook him, I asked myself a question: is London progressing?

Footnote: There is no team of female fashion researchers.

PS: Please buy, read and adore my self-published London novel Frightgeist, available from OnLondon.co.uk or from independent bookshop Pages of Hackney.

Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

Dave Hill: Nigel Farage hates all that is best about Britain – London most of all

Here he comes on his way to House of Commons with his foghorn gob and his bossy-arse parade ground strut. Yes, it’s wannabe Brigadier Nigel Farage, all mouth and tax policies no abacus in Albion can make add up, boasting to the pensioners of Clacton-on-Sea and anyone else unwise enough to listen to his claptrap that if only he was in charge, with his “common sense” and his Union Jack jockstrap hoisted up really high, fings would be like wot they used to be, back when all the apples were Cox’s orange pippins, the national anthem was played at the end of films and a threepenny bit would buy a whole bag of humbugs.

Behold, the ex-public schoolboy and City broker who reckons he’s the leader of a “people’s army” and speaks for the Common Man – a “patriot”, no less, here to deliver us from, well, everything he doesn’t like about a country that, for centuries, has made the big mistake of giving posh boys like him inside tracks they haven’t earned, only to see them do everything they can to appropriate or denigrate everything Britain has ever done right or well.

Who exactly does this loudmouth think he is, claiming to speak for the “ordinary, decent people” of the nation, when his idea of how to run it would be to make the richest a lot richer and in the process starve the poorest of the help they need to keep body and soul together and the wolf from the door? The answer, of course, is that Farage thinks he is a man of destiny, a saviour and redeemer, God’s gift. But the truth is that he’s found a crafty way to big himself up by doing down the country he claims he loves.

There is no plainer proof of this than the delight he takes in denigrating London. For Farage, the capital city of the nation he aspires to leading – well, he says he does, though I doubt the braggart has much appetite for serious responsibility, let alone exposure to reality – is not the indispensable driving force of the UK economy, not the global jewel in the UK’s crown that attracts talent and investment from around the world, not the glorious 2012 Olympics “world in one city”, but an offence against what he thinks is the natural order of British things – a fantasy rooted in a 1950s primary school understand of history sold as fact with cunning prejudice.

His loathing of London, his affronted disdain for what he thinks London is, betrays him as not only a dangerous dreamer bent on marching Britain back to a phoney lost golden past, but also a low opportunist, peddling falsehoods for cheap rounds of applause.

Earlier this week, the reliably rubbish Sun newspaper found a mouthy cabbie to back up its pre-written “story” that Sadiq Khan has “banned” London taxi drivers from flying England flags during the Euros.

The “story” was completely false: Transport for London, which regulates black cabs – not the Mayor – has, for many years issued guidelines against flags of any kind being flown from those vehicles, maintaining rules that have applied for decades.

Screenshot 2024 06 27 at 15.04.23

Yet Farage, not one to miss the chance to stir up a culture war no matter how bogus the premise, reacted to the Sun’s trash by pronouncing: “Khan really hates England.”

Back in 2010, Boris Johnson, the last Rule Britannia conman to leech off the British public, made a typical song and dance about TfL saying they would relax the rule during the World Cup of that year. Maybe Khan, a big football fan, would have encouraged TfL to do the same in 2024 had he been asked.

But, of course, Farage has closed down that option by exploiting the issue to kick off a divisive hate-fest, prompting streams of racist abuse from social media trolls and seemingly not caring less. Well, they are his people, after all. His gang of grovellers on GB News and the rest have followed his lead, recycling the same piece of sophistry as ammunition in their endless war on “Sadiq Khan’s London”, a London that has elected him as its political leader three times in a row.

Assuming Farage wins his seat next week, the expected Labour national government, led by Londoner Keir Starmer, should take a dual track approach to this worthless parasite.

One track should be to recognise and address the genuine anxieties about a fast-changing world that leads some Britons, including a small minority of Londoners, to believe, or at least hope, that Farage and his mob might do something to ease their fears – the same mistake they made when backing Brexit.

The other track should be to rip the piss out of “Nigel” at every opportunity. On no account should they pathetically appease him, as the Tories have done for ten years (and see where that’s got them, and the rest of us). But neither should they get too riled by him, because he dines out on the idea that he causes metropolitan liberals offence.

A better approach would be to mock him, torment him and very gently expose him as the poseur and performing flea he is: a man with no answers to any of the problems Britain faces; a man who expects the sound of his own voice to fill the void where substance ought to be; and, perhaps now and again, as a man whose sour and bitter attitude Britain is put to shame by the optimism and pride of the British capital’s Mayor.

OnLondon.co.uk provides unique coverage of the capital’s politics, development and culture. Support it for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill.

Categories: Comment

Charles Wright: What Sadiq Khan’s diversity commission did (and was never going to do)

Somewhat under the radar, Sadiq Khan’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm was wound up earlier this year. The controversial initiative was set up a month after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd to predictably lurid headlines: “Woke Sadiq Khan bid to tear down London statues.” The reality has been less dramatic.

The context for the commission was revealed in a study showing that more than a fifth of the capital’s predominantly Victorian memorials were dedicated to named men, just one per cent to people of colour and twice as many to animals than to named women. More objects in public spaces were needed, Khan said, to present a “more complete picture of everyone who has made London the incredible city it is today”.

The rapid growth of the Black Lives Matter movement following Floyd’s murder and particularly the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June 2020, nevertheless did prompt a new focus on who was being commemorated in the capital.

It was a significant moment: slave trader Robert Milligan’s statue in Docklands was taken down and statues and busts of Sir John Cass, director of the slave-trading Royal African Company, were removed by the University of East London, St Botolph’s church in Aldgate, and two East End schools.

Departments at two London universities dropped the Cass name, as did the Cass Foundation, which had administered his charitable legacy since 1748. The City of London Corporation opened discussions on removing his statue from the Guildhall, along with that of slaver, plantation owner and twice Lord Mayor of London Sir William Beckford.

A name change was also agreed for Beckford primary school in Camden. The school had opened in 1886 as Broomsleigh Street school but renamed after Beckford by the London County Council in 1929 – 159 years after his death.

Plans were put in train to remove the statues of benefactors and beneficiaries of the slave trade Sir Robert Clayton and Thomas Guy, from Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals, and that of 17th century slave trade investor Robert Geffrye from Hackney’s Museum of the Home, which occupies former almshouses Geffrye endowed.

The City Corporation confirmed its decision to remove its Cass and Beckford statues in January 2021 as an “important milestone in our journey towards a more inclusive and diverse City”, according to policy chair Catherine McGuinness. But the government was already intervening. The law was rapidly changed so that removal of any statue or memorial at least 10 years old, whether listed or not, would require planning permission, and national planning policy was amended to emphasise a new “retain and explain” approach.

The government “does not support the removal of statues,” said culture secretary Oliver Dowden. The Guildhall, the hospitals and the Museum of the Home fell into line, agreeing to keep their statues, along with interpretative panels. At the same time, there has been only a flurry of street name changes.

Meanwhile, despite the accusations levelled at Khan, City Hall hadn’t been taking the lead with pulling down memorials and renaming buildings and streets. Rather, the commission was talking to boroughs and consulting an expert panel, looking to “advise on better ways to raise public understanding” of existing memorials and names, as well as promoting the “diverse histories” of the city. But it was “not established to preside over the removal of statues”.

What has been the result? Most immediately, the commission can point to its substantial “untold stories” grants programme. It has supported some 70 projects across 24 boroughs, from new memorials and murals to events, exhibitions and walking tours, marking, in Khan’s words, the contribution to the city’s history of people and communities too often “wilfully ignored”.

The streetscape will be changing too. London will be see two major new memorials over the coming three years: its first permanent HIV/AIDS memorial, to be sited in Fitzrovia close to the site of the country’s first specialist HIV ward, with a £130,000 contribution from the commission; and one to the victims of transatlantic slavery at West India Quay in Docklands, with £500,000 of funding.

City Hall is already clear that the commission has “improved our collective understanding of our shared history”. Formal evaluation is underway, but at the very least, the commission’s ambition  – not for fewer statues but for more memorials of various kinds telling a “wider, diverse and more representative story of London” is set to be realised. Its long-term legacy perhaps remains to be determined.

X/Twitter: Charles Wright and OnLondon. Support OnLondon.co.uk  for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details here.

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