Exhibit One: The Hipster Loses His Girl
I see his heavy eyelids flutter (in the words of the song). He’s desperate to impress the girl sat across from him, so nervous to create the right cool-as-**** impression that his fingers are fumbling over the pathetic roll-up he’s trying to make. Shreds of tobacco float away on the warm summer air.
- So like there’s no way I’d vote Tory man? The sense he intended was “I wouldn’t vote Tory, man” but his meaning is still clear.
- No, no way man, she agrees with him, but absentmindedly, flicking her long hair about and looking across the road to the park. She’s very, very bored. Then she goes:
- Oh look, there’s Gary! and her face is transformed, lit up.
Gary comes up and I look away. I know him, in that I recognise him and know why he’s here. The local hard man. “Authentic” (aye right) east end rough. Done up like a gayboy parody of a skinhead, down to the prison-white trainers and the tattoo crawling up his neck. He aspires to be top dog but I’m not sure he’s managed it; he’s certainly always careful to exhibit submissive behaviour when the two rastas who supply most of this street are about. He’s a vicious, drug-dealing psycho; but he’s also undeniably very, very sexy: particularly to these white middle-class students. To both of them. He sits down on the same bench as the girl, sideways-on to her, legs astride the bench. The other boy babbles on something about the election tomorrow, but even I can’t be bothered listening to him anymore.
- What election, man? says Gary, putting his hand into the girl’s hair. He mutters something in her ear and she starts laughing.
Keith and Andrew come up to where I’m waiting and we go off to canvass the Suffolk estate. We’re three boys in our corduroys, we’re not terrific but we’re competent. In the words of the song.
Exhibit Two: EMA innit
Walking across London Fields with Keith and an armload of leaflets. We’re taking the ‘catwalk’, the diagonal bisector path that runs from Broadway Market across to the Lido. Keith has agreed to wear a blue rosette and deliver election literature, something that is making me laugh with quiet amazement. I’m so chuffed with him I could burst, is what I’m thinking, when he goes:
- I won’t talk to anyone.
- No, no, that’s OK, honestly. I hate doing the canvass board anyway, it will be great to have someone to keep track of that.
- That’s OK then, I don’t mind delivering leaflets but I don’t want to talk to anyone.
I’m thinking wistfully of the Lido (but Andrew has told me: Socialism doesn’t waste time bobbing around in the swimming pool and so neither must we) as we pass two black girls in their blue school uniform, gossiping on a bench.
- Tory! shouts one.
- Vote Laye-bor, goes the other one, in that adopted rude-bwoy cod-Jamaican accent that I detest. I don’t give them a second glance and it takes a moment to see that I’ve walked on alone. Oh God. Keith stands in front of them.
- Who do you want to win, then? he asks, forgetting about this not-talking-to-people thing.
They giggle. They’re both clinically obese, a common enough sight here, as is the fried “chicken” product one is shoving into her mouth. I remember being the fat boy at primary school; it wasn’t fun, because no-one else was. I wonder if it’s the thin kids who feel isolated these days, since they’re the minority now.
- Mai mum allays votes Laye-bore, one says. Her friend’s eyebrows knit. There’s a better answer than that, she thinks, something she’s been taught. I can see the moment of triumph when she remembers:
- You’ll take away our EMA innit. She’s so happy to have remembered the reason not to vote Tory, which someone has carefully taught her, that her epiphany of political insight is delivered in natural cockney. For this reason at least I warm to her a little.
- No, we won’t, I say, and take Keith off. When he asks about EMA and I explain what it is, I decide there and then that his thoughts on paying children to go to school are too rightwing to share with ConservativeHome.
Exhibit Three: It's A Well-Known Fact
In the north of the borough, my friend Matthew (whom I wrote about a few weeks ago) is engaged in the futile attempt to keep his seat on the council. My friend Alexander is standing as well. These two have worked harder than any Tories I’ve ever known. Matthew has a proud record of service in this ward. He is quiet, and dignified; cerebral but caring. We’re not great friends; we’re too dissimilar. But I can recognise love when I see it, and it is love that I see in Matthew when he talks gently with his constituents.
Tonight we’re making our way down Listria Park. It’s the sort of street that makes people who know Hackney only through Exhibit Four gasp in surprise: tree-lined, quiet, villa-strewn, expensive. Very, very expensive. The bottle-green door with the lovingly-restored original glasswork is opened to me by a white middle-aged woman, close-cropped hair in (very, very expensive) fronds across her forehead. Her eyes take in my rosette; they narrow and her lips purse. She’s not looking angry at finding a Tory on her doorstep (in the way I remember from Scotland in the 80s): she just looks - oh I have searched and searched but cannot find a more appropriate adjective than this one, madam, sorry: smug. Oh - and (see Exhibit One): bored.
- Young man, she says (I’m thinking: I like you, lady).Young man, it’s a well-known fact that no-one south of Manor Road votes Conservative. Even the bottle-green door manages to make a weary, supercilious, I’m-too-wealthy-to-give-a-damn sound as it closes in my face.
Exhibit Four: You Couldn't Make It Up
Perhaps it seemed a good idea to Labour at the time; maybe they believe their own propaganda posters (Crime Is Down! Across The Borough! Like, Well Down Man!) which hang from lamp-posts everywhere from, oh, North Korea to E8. So a summer festival in London Fields on a sunny Saturday must have seemed like a good idea - it’s always full of wealthy middle-class folks (Our Voters, Man!) on Saturday daytimes.
I love London Fields, and the Lido in its corner is the reason we still live here. But the following two observations are incontrovertible to anyone with eyes to see:
1. A system of apartheid, with rules defined by a mixture of postcode, class and race, is in operation. The white middle-class people disappear as soon as it gets dark.
2. Gangs of fatherless, swaggering, out-of-control (mixed-race: this is a multicultural phenomenon) youths take ownership of the park as soon as night falls. They frighten people during the daytime with impunity, making women with baby-buggies take detours to avoid them; but it’s when the daylight ends that they come into their own. Remember Shaquille? Or this incident?
On Saturday, the clock-based apartheid system broke down. The gangs arrived in the middle of the party, started shooting at each other, and an innocent bloke, having a barbecue on the ‘reclaimed’ London Fields, was shot in the stomach.
The great Jules Pipe, Labour Mayor of the borough, released a statement: Hundreds of people were able to enjoy the event in London Fields today safely and without interruption. That’s alright then; just the one near-fatal shooting of a hapless sunbather per weekend. How’s that for a target-driven political culture?
Not Just A Camera
If you live in Hackney, and voted Labour on May 6: well done! You must feel really proud. What - making a political point? Linking voting habits to borough-outcomes? It’s a characteristic of the left, isn’t it, to deny responsibility for the outcomes of their policy, and by extension to deny a link between voting for Labour policies and then living with the consequences (the same people, of course, have no doubts about applying a moral calculus to voting Conservative): and if anyone bothers to respond to this let me predict that they will call me cheap for linking decades of Labour administration with the state that the borough is in, as though events such as the London Fields shooting happen only at random, or perhaps as though Hackney was cursed by a wicked witch, like some sort of infantile fairytale. Oh I forgot, it’s poverty innit. Poor people can’t help shooting random strangers in the stomach, is that it? There's no connection at all between your implicit syllogism: I am a good person; Good people vote Labour; Therefore I vote Labour, and the chances of being assaulted for daring to sunbathe in a park. Is that it?
Sorry: no. I hold you responsible. You, Gary and your Gangsta guvnors, and you, stupid little white girl, getting a thrill before heading back to the shires, and you, whoever trained those black schoolgirls to believe that a Tory vote would deny them an education, and you - perhaps you in particular - green-door woman, representative of the elite which engendered the culture that has left estate after estate at the mercy of the fatherless boys, who still, now, will claim that there’s no link between a benefit system that pays people to not stay together and thus encourages family breakdown, that there’s no link between family breakdown and the creation of an entire village of fatherless children, no link between that and the formation of the violent gangs that fight for control of borough-territory, violence that normally happens only to them, and only at night, of course, when you’re safely home from the Lido and your green door’s bolted shut, violence which now swaggers across the ‘reclaimed’ London Fields in the middle of a family festival and leaves a bloodied victim in its wake. I blame you. You make me sick.