October 2008


The De Beauvoir Estate

The De Beauvoir Estate near Old Street

I went into the De Beauvoir Estate in Hackney last week to research a story on postcode wars, where gangs fight over territories marked out by the first section of a postcode (N1, NW5 and so on).

It didn’t take long to find two lads who would talk about the effect it had on their lives pretty candidly.

In the end I had to cut most of the quotes from my article. I thought I would post a full transcript of the interview here as they came out with some phrases that gave a glimpse into a life a million miles away from the trendy shops and bars of nearby Shoreditch.

Daniel Smith, 17, a college student:

If you walk into certain ends and you don’t know someone who lives there, they’ll beat you. They’ll rob you and say, ‘Get out of my ends’.

They watch you and they know you’re not from the area. You can’t walk through places around here.

The police try and stop it but they make it worse. Not everyone who wears a hood is into drugs, robbing and fighting. Look at me; I’ve just been to college.

I grew up around here. Round here it’s getting better – the older gang people are growing up and moving on.

Mark Brown, 19:

It’s not everywhere you go, it’s just some places. But if we go into London Fields now we’re dead – dead.

It’s gang wars. I always watch my back ‘cos if you get caught slipping, they’ll get you.

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Dear oh dear. It’s difficult to say who’s come out worse this week, but according to Politics Home George Osborne has the dubious distinction of beating Peter Mandelson in the sheer column inches dedicated to his Corfu misdemeanours.

 

The Independent on Sunday, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and The Mail all sharpened their knives for Mandelson (The Mail’s Stephen Glover set the tone earlier in the week when he accused the BBC of going after Osborne while “Mandy is getting away with murder”).

 

But my pick of the day has to be the refreshing absence of an oligarch in the News of The World’s lurid front-page exposé on George Osborne:

 

 

The article dredges up various ‘revelations’ about the behaviour of the now-infamous Bullingdon Club, playing into the themes of elitism and privilege which have really been the backdrop of the past week’s stories involving Nat Rothschild’s set in Corfu.

As the interview winds to a close, vice girl Natalie Rowe strikes a melancholic note:

As Natalie this week surveyed the debris of Osborne’s relationship with his accuser Rothschild and pondered the reasons behind the row, she admitted: “I can’t believe George would want to annoy Nat. He knows so much about him… But Osborne’s sloppy, isn’t he?”

That condenses the general view this week into a few quick sentences.

The News of the World also has an exclusive piece claiming “Mandy” may be investigated by the European Commission over his links with a French private equity guru, Ernest-Antoine Seilliere. NotW reporter Jamie Lyons suggests Mandelson shared sensitive trade-talk information with Seilliere and pushed through certain policies under his influence. You start to wonder how many pies Mandelson got his fingers into in his time in Europe. A lot of journalists are going to be chasing those crumbs.

Elsewhere, The Observer has been doing some digging around Tory party funding and has uncovered a £1m loan made to the party in 2005 by Lady Victoria de Rothschild through a ‘non-trading’ company. Legislation barring loans from non-traders was passed a year later. Labour MP Denis MacShane accused David Cameron of “showing contempt for British democracy’s rules on party funding”. Again, you get the feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more stories in this vein in the coming weeks.

Andrew Rawnsley thinks both sides have been pretty foolish to fall into the lure of the super-rich. “There is a chasm between the haves and the have-nots,” he says. “It is into that chasm, despite all the repeated warnings of the dangers, that our politicians wilfully keep hurling themselves.”

In The Sunday Times, Martin Ivens makes the suggestion Brown wouldn’t mind losing Mandelson in exchange for toppling Osborne in a rook-for-queen swap. Interestingly, this is a variant on Chris Cutmore’s comment that Brown may have brought back his old enemy as a disposable absorbant for bad press and Opposition aggression.  Ivens adds: “The shadow chancellor has a precocious talent – as long as he has learnt something from his youthful mistakes, he can recover.”

The Telegraph wants to put pressure on Mandelson on several fronts – to publish full details of his meetings with Deripaska, to say whether they discussed aluminium tariffs, and to justify his misleading statement earlier in the week about how many times the pair had met. More excitingly, a source told the paper Mandelson’s long hand was most definitely behind Nat Rothschild’s letter to The Times. The Telegraph’s attitude to Osborne’s scandal is summed up when it mentions as an aside: “Media scrutiny of Lord Mandelson was diverted to George Osborne last week.”

Finally, on Friday the political gossip site Guido Fawkes posted an alluring bit of news simply saying “Deripaska/Mandelson tapes rumour”. The comment left by one reader sums it up: “Please God let it be true.”

It’s been a heady few days days for Barack Obama. First, endorsements from two of the west’s staunchest right-wingers – Ken Adelman and Boris Johnson – and now he’s achieved immortalisation in cartoon form.

If by any slim chance you’re still unfamiliar with his life story, check this out:

Is it just me or are there Bob Dylan overtones to that video?

According to Financial Times editor Lionel Barber:

 

The imperial status of the mainstream media – the television networks, big metropolitan dailies and lofty commentators – has been shaken. The lay-offs of hundreds of US newspaper journalists this summer are a symptom of a wider malaise.

 

We are witnessing a shift in the balance of power towards new media, with wholesale repercussions for the practice of journalism.

 

Apparently the International Herald Tribune, for decades a source of news for Americans venturing abroad, is folding its web operation into the New York Times site as online news has made its business model redundant.

 

How long before the print version follows suit?

At a debate last week, former Labour communications boss and BBC journalist Joy Johnson criticised the political hacks who have repeatedly drummed up stories about Gordon Brown’s embattled position and potential challenges to his leadership over the past few months. (“It’s pathetic” were her actual words.)

 

Johnson said a large part of it could be put down to editors pushing their lobby correspondents for splashworthy stories that would keep them riffing on a consistent theme.

 

A couple of interesting nuggets have surfaced in the press over the past few days.

 

In The Sunday Telegraph, Melissa Kite says Brown is increasingly having trouble with his good eye, which she suggests may developing into a “serious disability”:

 

The Prime Minister’s close friends have revealed that he can only see extremely large print and has needed guidance at public events. There were suggestions that if Mr Brown falls or bumps into something his damaged retina could fail and he would go blind completely…

 

Insiders revealed that Mr Brown’s memos are in huge print and triple spaced while his own handwriting is getting larger. One senior official said: “If I want him to reply to an email, I always make sure it’s in at least 36 point.” That is five times as large as standard print size.

Meanwhile, psychologist Lucy Beresford told the BBC on Friday she thought his decision to bring Mandelson back to Cabinet government was a form of “self mutilation”. She went on:

 

He certainly needs self love. He is a deeply insecure person and he has quite a great inferiority complex which habitually he has compensated for by over spending.  Compulsive spending, often with money he doesn’t have, and we collude with a lot of his dysfunctional behaviour.  So if he wants love, we could give it to him but that might not be what he needs.

 

Both pieces are reprisals of riffs we’ve already heard – Brown is psychologically or temperamentally unfit for the premiership. Although this doesn’t necessarily make them any more valid, it’s interesting to see them playing on relentlessly in a week that has arguably been a fairly decent one from the PM’s point of view (even if for everyone else it has been pretty grim).

 

Labour MPs got a rare chuckle on Wednesday when the clunking fist gave David Cameron his first bashing for a while in PMQs. The Tories have been torn between the desire to present themselves as tough on City fat cats and the urge to appeal to the Surrey masses. And Brown even managed to crack a dark joke when a mobile went off during a speech – “another bank falling?” he quipped.

 

The momentum of negative popular and media opinion against the PM remains formidable. There also may be a good reason the tide of favour is almost the exact inverse of New Labour’s fledgling days, when its glittering PR machine won over so many editors and producers. In Joy Johnson’s words:

 

They [Campbell and Mandelson] professionalised and elevated the party’s campaigning. They used the media to change the party, the politics, the policies, and the media bought the story. [But] it became too much, too much message, too much control.

 

You get the feeling it’s going to be a long time before the media fill their boots so readily again.