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Graeme Archer: The Spirit of Broadway

"My card’s just been rejected, what we gonna do?"

Welcome to Broadway Market in Hackney. Someone once said to me “I don’t mind your columns, but they’re so bloody Hackney focused, it’s Hackney this, Hackney that, I mean the whole world isn’t Hackney”. I know what he (the distinguished GLA candidate for one of the south-eastern London boroughs) meant, even if I don’t agree with his premise. But what can I do. The only things I really care about are: Love, my family, and Hackney. I get back to E8 of an evening and feel my whole body relax, let go of the working day’s tension with a sigh of relief. Thank God. I’m home.

So I listened to the young woman whose credit card was refused at the bar with interest, as she and her friend scrabbled to find enough coppers in their nearly empty purses to pay for their coffee. Suddenly, there isn’t enough credit to go around, whether between lending banks or on the cards of Creative Types in Hackney coffee shops. The gap between a vague awareness of something called a “credit crunch” happening Somewhere Else to Other People, and the growing proportion of people who have spent the last decade remortgaging their home in order to fund a debt-driven lifestyle with the equity, is narrowing. And whoever bears primary responsibility for this debt, I bet the anger will be directed towards that formerly Iron Chancellor. You know, the one who put an end to all that boom and bust.


I’m sure I’m not the only (incoming) east Londoner who used to snigger at Gordon Brown basking in his reputation as an “iron” chancellor. In cockney rhyming slang, of course, an iron isn’t necessarily indicative of a dour-faced son of the manse with an addiction to spending other people’s money. 


It’s not only me who finds Hackney relevant to nearly everything. Here’s David Cameron launching Brian Binley MP’s review of local shops (for local people):

"We need less of Labour-controlled Hackney council, who sold off the freeholds on many of the much-loved local shops and cafes in Broadway Market to property developers. And more of Conservative-controlled Wandsworth Council, which took a landmark decision to support shops in Northcote Road near Clapham Junction after several long-established businesses were forced out."

I’m writing this in a pub on Broadway Market, and Dave is absolutely, 100% right. The ideologues who worry about Tory councils “propping up” small shops and businesses (i.e. those councils which consider a business’ contribution to the area to amount to something more than just rateable value) should pay E8 a visit. Our community dragged itself up by its bootstraps. Ten years ago you would not have walked down Broadway Market alone after dark. Now it thrives – but in spite of the council, which from 2005 onwards began selling the freeholds of the properties to private developers, some based in the Bahamas, who evicted the sitting tenants and upped the leases of those who remained. (Read more about the Spirit of Broadway here) Whose side are we on? The people who open bookshops, cafes and bars, butchers, art galleries and dress shops? Or the corporatist council, happier for a quick buck off someone who don’t even live here?


I’ve been in Verona all week, where most of the region voted for the Lega Nord. It’s fascinating to contrast the politics of Italy with those of the UK – it’s like Britain through the looking glass. In Italy, the rich and industrial north resents the taxes it sends to Rome, in order to subsidise (as they see it) profligacy in the southern regions. So they form a party demanding separation of the two, with fiscal autonomy for the north. In the UK, the flow of money is more or less in the other direction, but the demands for separatism come from the poorer northern area (Scotland), rather than the richer south. Well – that used to be the case. How much longer, I wonder. 


Having predicted correctly the outcome of the Italian general election, I’ll continue to trust my nose and remain sure that Boris is going to win, though not by the landslide my Labour friend still expects. This time there’s a determination which was missing before: I can see it in the Hackney Tory Collective, focused relentlessly on a near-professional GOTV campaign, returning at least four times to re-leaflet and now re-canvass the Tory voting parts of the borough, rather than using the campaign as the chance to get some paperwork into our target wards. There’s an unspoken agreement that our target wards can wait: this time we have to get every single Tory voter we know about out to vote. 

It’s not just the old hands. Another feature of this mayoral campaign which makes it distinct to previous campaigns is the infusion of new blood. Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you how many new activists I’ve met, from Elsie, who thought her N1 address made her an Islingtonian, until we delicately showed her the map of the borough boundaries, to Peter, the man I came across completely at random at the Bishopsgate entrance to Liverpool St, handing out Boris’ literature. Don’t believe a word you may have read about the supposedly amateurish nature of Boris’ HQ. This has been the most organised, targeted and ruthlessly focused Tory campaign I’ve ever seen. Couple that with the detestation of Livingstone which resides in the breast of an increasing number of Londoners, and I’m nearly ready to give in to the increasing feeling I have, that we’re gonna win this one.


Saturday morning, and Mr Keith and I head down to the South Bank for the Stonewall Mayoral Hustings. Poor Mr Keith. All he wants is a quiet life, and this turned out to be a quite depressing event, with just a little too much sanctimony in the air for my stomach’s pleasure. The blatant nature of Livingstone’s lies, however, and the weird doublethink of some in the audience to accept them (he told us he had had “no idea” that Qaradawi, a man he invited to City Hall and who has spent decades calling for gay men to be executed, in fact held those views at all) made it worth seeing, if only to make the urgent requirement for a Johnson mayoralty even more obvious.

If there’s a future for London which is positive – this has ramifications beyond the numerically small number of gay men and women – then it can only be one where we emphasise political blindness to (though not personal ignorance of) the insignificant variables which make us different one from the other (e.g. to which gender are you attracted?), and damn to electoral oblivion those who would use any such perceived difference as a reason to instigate the politics of identity. Identity politics leads to special interest groups, which leads to “community leaders”, which leads to suspicion of motives, which leads to lack of trust, which leads to separatism, which leads to division, which leads to hate, which leads to death. Livingstone is the master of this balkanising politics. Let that be his political obituary.


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