Monthly Archives: March 2011

Streatham On The TUC March For The Alternative

Over a hundred members of Streatham Labour Party took part in the TUC’s March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March. Here is a video I made on the day.

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The Grid Guru And The Smoking Room

Me with Paul

Last night I was at Walkers, just off Whitehall, at retirement drinks for Paul Brown, who has been the guardian and guru of the government grid for the past 12 years.

I first met Paul in the smoking room at No 10, which was a dingy little room in the basement where the smokers in the building would come and go through the day. It doubled as the cleaners’ changing room. They also made their toast in there, which added to the unique aroma of ash and smoke, scorched bread and furniture polish.

There was a large table in the middle which smokers would sit around, shooting the acrid breeze before returning to their desks. At various times of day you’d see Jon Cruddas, then working in Tony Blair’s political office, drawing on a fag, thumb on cheek, brow furrowed, like he was playing a tricky poker hand. Or Anji Hunter, bustling in for a brisk, businesslike nicotine fix, aiming shrewd questions at members of the smokers’ focus group – ‘Mark, how would you describe the Third Way in one sentence?’. Er. Cigarette three quarters smoked, she’d rearrange whichever floaty scarf she was wearing, delve into her bag for her breath freshener, a quick spray, and off she went.

It was a democratic, gossipy gathering of people doing jobs at all levels. Detectives, Garden Room girls, messengers, IT, press officers, duty clerks, policy advisers.  It was in the smoking room that a chat with the head of IT, when I mentioned that I was looking for a flat, led to me buying his place in Streatham. It’s the flat I still live in, twelve years on.

A not infrequent visitor to the smoking room was the cardiganed figure of Paul Brown. He rolled his own cigarettes in the very precise, meticulous way that characterises everything he does. He was always interesting to chat to, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of, amongst other things, civil war battlefields, a sphinx-like smile and an ability to calmly take everything in his stride. When you’re dealing with the competing and sometimes antithetical policy and media demands of ministers and their departments, that’s a required quality.

Paul is rightly highly regarded as the civil servant par excellence, totally professional, hard-working and completely without the vanity that sometimes infects people who are doing important jobs. Whatever you think about the management of communications, through his management of the grid of events and announcements, Paul has done an enormous amount to make government communications more strategic and effective, serving three prime ministers – Blair, Brown and Cameron.

So I think it was a measure of the respect and affection Paul has earned over the years that the bar at Walkers was a friendly crush of people from Downing Street and Whitehall, past and present. It was nice to catch up with some old colleagues, Labour and civil service, and chat to some of the current bunch of No 10 staffers.

Paul has been one of the back-room heroes, and I wish him well in his retirement from Downing Street, and all the things he does in the future. And it’s good to hear he has successfully given up smoking.

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Fictitious Birds Made Of Paper: Streatham Common Kite Day

I must echo the words of Dr Samuel Johnson, a frequent visitor to Streatham, who once said: ‘I am a great friend of public amusements, they keep people from vice’.

I don’t know whether Dr Johnson ever attempted to fly a kite. He defines a kite in his dictionary as ‘a fictitious bird made of paper’. If he did ever try kiting, I’m sure he’d be very impressed by Streatham Common Kite Day. It’s a public amusement and vice-free. And if that’s not enough to enthuse a weary lexicographer, there’s a bouncy castle and face-painting. Dr Johnson would have a whale of a time.

I’m looking forward to the simple fun of Streatham Common Kite Day on 10 April. Not because I’m a proficient kite flyer – most of my attempts have been, as Dr Johnson might say, tragick. But I love the multi-coloured spectacle of hundreds of kites flying high above the broad green expanse of the Common.

I like the camaraderie of the event, where dedicated kiteologists show feats of airborne skill alongside people who come along determined to get their kites off the ground for more than five seconds. I also like the fact that Kite Day is organised by the community for the community, and attracts people from far and wide. It’s a proud expression of Streatham at its best.

And I’m doubly proud because it happens in my ward! To misquote Judy Garland’s closing line in Meet Me in St Louis, ‘I can’t believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in St. Reatham’.

Anyway, put some time aside on 10 April to visit Streatham Common. Buy, borrow or make a kite and bring it with you. Here is a video I made of last year’s Kite Day.

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On Galliano And Streatham

John Galliano

When I hear the name Galliano, I don’t really associate it with Streatham.

My first thought is of the tall thin bottle of Galliano, a sickly yellow Italian liqueur, that used to stand behind the bar in the pub my parents ran. It’s the main ingredient of a Harvey Wallbanger, which in the Iron Duke wasn’t the usual tipple of choice – a pint of best was more the thing. But my parents had to keep a small supply of such things in an unassuming Berkshire pub, and keep dusting them, just in case the cocktail set pranced in.

My second thought would be of the excellent journalist Joseph Galliano, who I used to have dealings with when I was a Labour press officer.

Only thirdly would come fashion designer John Galliano. I knew vaguely of his connection with Streatham before his whole shameful ‘I love Hitler’ drunken tirade blew made the news. Galliano’s Streathamite credentials have been much quoted in the past few days, though only in the off-hand way that Naomi Campbell is always mentioned by journalists as being ‘Streatham-born’ when she does something wrong. Galliano, when he transgresses, is written about as ‘Streatham-raised’.

It’s all a shorthand for ‘Isn’t he or she actually a bit of a bad ‘un, a bit common, dodgy, dangerous?’, which of course ends up characterising Streatham in the minds of people who don’t live here.

Simon Callow, the distinguished actor, is ‘Streatham-born’ but you don’t read about that very often, if at all, in coverage of his career. Perhaps it’s because he talks with a plummy accent. Perhaps because he hasn’t committed any offence – if he did, I imagine he’d be written up as ‘Streatham-born’ in every paper.

Streatham has, and has always had, many good and strong things to recommend it, not least of which today is its diverse and vibrant community.  Streatham’s history, its past, is fascinating. Its present is promising, despite the recession. And its future is in the hands, not so much of local councillors like me, but of its young people. So it’s not fair to them that journalists persist, deliberately and lazily, in using and abusing Streatham as a badge of disrepute.

That said, what is John Galliano’s connection with Streatham anyway? We know, through the official blurb, that he arrived here from Gibraltar at the age of 6 in 1966. His father worked as a plumber, apparently in the area. The family seems to have moved quite soon after arriving in the UK, decamping to Brockley (Lewisham). So ‘Streatham-raised’ is therefore pretty tenuous. We know he attended St Anthony’s, a Roman Catholic primary in Peckham Rye (Southwark), some distance away. After that, Wilson’s Grammar School for Boys in Camberwell (Southwark). Thereafter, St Martins College of Art, also not in Streatham. So is he really all that connected with Streatham?

Galliano’s anti-semitic comments, made in a bar in Paris, were disgusting. We have two synagogues in Streatham, numerous churches and mosques. Streatham, a diverse place which is its strength, does not represent the mindset of people like John Galliano. As an openly gay man, he should also know and feel sorrow and anger for the 100,000 homosexuals imprisoned or locked away in mental institutions by the Nazis, and of the 15,000 who died in death camps wearing pink triangles. Being brought up a Catholic, he should feel sorrow and anger for the deaths of 3,000 Polish clergy at the hands of the Nazis. Above all, he should feel sorrow and anger at the fate of 6 million Jews.

It is obvious to me that living in the glittering, pampered bubble of high fashion in Paris, and being indulged for years in his behaviour, has been Galliano’s downfall, not any vague connection with SW2 or SW16.

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Citizen Öpik

Would-be Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London Lembit Opik has been busy making a series of short videos for his campaign. The Lib Dems haven’t selected their London candidate yet, so maybe the former Newcastle city councillor and former MP for Montgomeryshire is in with a chance. Lib Dems do like their local candidates.

To be fair, Opik lives in Kennington, presumably still in the flat he claimed £68,031 towards as an MP whilst getting a summons for non-payment of council tax.

He has demonstrated the city-wide reach of his campaign by going nine stops down the Northern Line to Tooting Broadway. This video lavishly recreates the opening titles of the late-seventies sitcom Citizen Smith, complete with Red Flag soundtrack.

Clearly a serious politician of formidable substance. Next is Opik back in his local boozer in Kennington, not appearing to pay for his pint.

You’ll notice him, in this one, honing what I imagine for Liberal Democrats is an appealing political slogan – ‘if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get’. Reminiscent of ‘change that works for you’.

And finally, this one has the former MP standing outside the Houses of Parliament. ‘I spent thirteen years in that building there’, he says, pointing at the House of Lords.

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Lambeth Budget Meeting: Liberal And Tory Speeches

I’ve been asked to post the lead speeches from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at the recent Full Council meeting to set Lambeth’s budget for 2011-12. The meeting was held in closed session after the council chamber was taken over by protesters.

Here is the speech from Cllr Julia Memery (Conservative, Clapham Common), who is deputy leader of the Tory group and finance spokesperson.

And here is the speech from the Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr Ashley Lumsden. Cllr Lumsden was lead councillor for finance during the Tory-Liberal administration of 2002-2006, when council tax was hiked by 40%, £3m was lost in fraud in the Housing service and the borough was left with next to nothing in reserves.

The speech from Labour leader Cllr Steve Reed has already been posted here.

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