Britain is miserable

Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day email linked yesterday to a New Yorker piece, “What Have Fourteen Years of Conservative Rule Done to Britain?”. It’s grim reading, describing how post-financial crisis austerity has basically crashed the country. The article looks at the inequalities around austerity, how it affected poorer areas more than ones with Tory voters – and how the richest 20% have thrived while the less affluent suffered. It also talks about how many public services have collapsed.

This year’s election seems to offer a resounding Labour victory – my concerns about the Tories doing well look increasingly unlikely. But, unlike in 1997, Labour are not offering any change. Until now, they’ve been offering a caretaker government which won’t rock the boat. We seem to face a continuation of this grim period of stagnation.

It’s the 25th anniversary of The Matrix, which has meants a few nostalgia pieces in the papers. One noted Agent Smith’s explanation of why the simulation was set in 1999: because, he said, it was “the peak of your civilisation”. In 1999, Britain certainly felt a much more optimistic place than it is now. It’s going to take a long time to set the damage from austerity right.

Sam Knight’s article is a depressing read, but an important one. It sets out how miserable things are, but also how it came to be this bad. And, maybe, with the right policies, this could be turned around.

The 2024 General Election

At some point in the next year the UK will have a general election – the last possible date is 28 January 2025, but I can’t see anyone wanting to campaign over Christmas. Most speculation has the election being a resounding victory for Labour. I even read a post discussing the possibility of the Tory party being eradicated.

I think its going to be closer – the Tories are good at the messaging, good at sounding strong, and good at mocking their opponents. That’s something that has worked for them: most people would rather stand behind a bully than beside a victim. And, on top of that, Labour are not offering a radical improvement – Starmer does not produce the same excitement as Blair. His current popularity rating is -22 compared to +19 for Blair at the same time.

As much as I disliked Corbyn, his results in the 2017 election are inarguable – he brought out voters who normally don’t bother. He offered people something different. While I don’t think Corbyn was capable of delivering his policies, Labour is refusing to learn the lessons from his increased support.

Right now the country is in a terrible state. Health experts have warned that “universal dental care has likely gone for good”. There are horrific stories of people being trapped on trains. Privatised companies are paying shareholder bonuses while providing poor service, filling rivers with sewage. Labour are offering nothing better than managed decline. They can’t even stand against a ridiculous policy which is spending more than £1 million per person to send 200 people to Rwanda.

British politics feels like it’s about getting everyone used to things being shit. Labour offering to hold the spoon feeding us this shit does not improve things much.

Podcast: How to Protect yourself from a Coronation

The Coronation weekend has been a strange one. I’ve been doing my best to ignore the whole affair and, while the press insist that this is a major historic event, it’s been easier to ignore than I expected. There seem to be few street parties and little sign of bunting. The biggest impact it’s made on my life is Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files sending out a defence of his attendance at the coronation.

But there is something sinister about this. We have a ceremony to crown an unelected head of state, against a background of an increasingly racist and authoritarian government, in a country where austerity and the cost of living crisis means lots of people can’t afford to live.

The spectacle of the coronation is intended to reaffirm a particular vision of our country. The ridiculous pomp is meant to seem anachronistic; the contradiction of this archaic ceremony is supposed to contrast with modern life, to persuade us that there’s no point arguing against the idea of a country whose rulers are defined by right of birth. You could even claim this illusion is an act of magic.

My friends Cat Vincent, Rob Rider Hill and the Indelicates have teamed up to produce a quick-turnaround podcast for this coronation weekend. It discusses the coronation ceremonies as an act of magic, and talks about how to protect yourself against them, with a quick introduction to defending yourself from the dark arts. It’s a good discussion, which takes time out to discuss the subject for those who have ‘no affinity for woo’.

Despite Nick Cave’s defence of his attendance, I’m disappointed at seeing him recuperated by a state which banned protests against the ceremony. It’s never good to see artists flirting with the establishment

The coronation seems to be less popular than expected, but the important thing is how it settles in the mind. We need to choose to remember the things this is supposed to distract us from. As Cat Vincent says on the podcast, the important thing is ”the act of choosing no”

(One interesting thread that Simon picks up on is the linking the popularity of folk horror and traditional customs/rituals to the current political climate. Which is something I could (and should) write a lot more about).

More on politics and curry

I assumed I’d said everything I could about curry and politics following recent posts on May, Cameron and Brexit. But, according to Chris Parkinson, there is much more to say. Chris is something of an expert on politicians and food, maintaining a Facebook page on the Eating Habits of Politicians. He sent me a barrage of links:.

When the manager of his local north London curry house called in to ask if his curries were improving his speeches, Miliband laughed and said he thought they definitely were, before admitting that he doesn’t like his takeaways very spicy. “David Cameron takes his extra spicy,” the interviewer told him, to which Miliband replied sardonically that clearly that’s because Cameron “is a really tough guy”.

  • I knew that I’d left out Robin Cook’s chicken tikka masala speech. But that probably deserves a post all of its own.
  • An article in the Independent from 2008 uses the headline The Great Balti Bailout and discusses how “The biggest deal in British financial history was stitched together by a Treasury team working into the early hours fuelled by takeaway curries“. The food came from Gandhi’s in Kennington, which has some impressive customer comments, including two former Prime Ministers.
  • Chris went on to add: “Possibly my favourite curry in recent political history is Alastair Darlings £600 takeaway on the brink of the financial crisis, an evening that culminated in Sarah Brown mistaking him for one of her children and sending him to bed.” I’m now trying to track down a source for that story.

I assume this covers most of the stories about politicians and curry – or, at least, the ones from recent years. But I suspect there are more to be uncovered. As a related item, here is an excruciating video of an interview with Zac Goldsmith, who ran a horrendous campaign in the 2016 London Mayoral election. In this footage, he claims to love Bollywood, but is awkwardly reluctant to name any films or stars.

David Cameron’s Curry Curse

It turns out that Teresa May is not the only Conservative leader to have jinxed a curry house. While researching the ongoing problems between British curry restauranteurs and the leave campaign, I learned that David Cameron has also brought bad luck.

There are strong links between the British Curry industry and politicians. This has a formal committee in theBritish Curry Catering Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group. The industry has strong lobbying groups, and politicians are eager to woo them – as you’d expect for an industry worth about £4½ billion). And, back in 2006, as leader of the opposition, Cameron used curry as part of his “unprecedented bid to woo the ethnic vote“.

When asked his favourite restaurant, Cameron said “You cannot beat a curry at The Khas Tandoori in Chamberlayne Road, Kensal Green, or curried goat from one of the street vendors during the Notting Hill Carnival.”

Back in the day. Gordon Brown professed a love of pop band the Arctic Monkeys, but was unable to give the name of any of their songs. An Evening Standard investigation of Cameron’s favourite curry house found a similar deception:

David Cameron may name The Khas Tandoori Restaurant as his favourite ethnic eaterie — but the owners seemed a little bemused. When manager Jomshed Miah was asked if he knows who David Cameron is he replied ‘Yes, of course’. But when asked whether Mr Cameron has ever dined in his restaurant, Mr Miah paused before replying: ‘I don’t think so. I have not seen him in here — maybe he orders take-aways.’

A big fan of Indian food, David Cameron has stated “I like a pretty hot curry.” The night of the 2010 election, which saw him elected Prime Minister, Cameron was eating in the Shaan Restaurant in Witney, Oxfordshire. In October 2013,the Shaan was raided and three men arrested for working illegally.

This is similar to what happened to the Innovation restaurant in Maidenhead, which was opened by Theresa May. If I was running an Indian restaurant, I’d be nervous about any endorsement by a Conservative Leader.

Brexit Curry

An article on the BBC website today, Cars, curry and tortillas’ role in Brexit charm offensive, discusses the diplomacy underway between Britain and the EU:

Food has also been used by Conservative members of the European Parliament to woo their continental colleagues in Brussels, according to the Telegraph. The newspaper reported that they have hosted dinners at the city’s best curry house.

This is particularly appropriate because curry was David Cameron’s last supper, the night before he quit Number 10 Downing Street. The Guardian reported that the order “contained delights such as samosas, Kashmiri rogan josh, a mixed grill and saag aloo (spinach and potato)“. The restaurant that provided the meal, the Kennington Tandoori, is thought to be the first curry house mentioned by name in Parliament.

Curry was one of the battlegrounds in last year’s Brexit campaign. Restaurant owners could be found arguing on both sides. The Bangladesh Caterers Association was in favour of Brexit, whereas the Asian Catering Federation was in favour of remain. Both sides saw immigration rules as the cause of a shortage of curry chefs, but disagreed over whether the issue was the EU. Priti Patel, Employment Minister and leave campaigner, claimed that the EU was a barrier for trade between India and the UK, pointing to a recent ban on Indian mangoes.

In an article in the Evening Standard, published in May 2016, Patel explained how Brexit would save British curry houses:

Uncontrolled immigration from the EU has led to tougher controls on migrants from the rest of the world. This means that we cannot bring in the talents and the skills we need to support our economy. By voting to leave we can take back control of our immigration policies, save our curry houses and join the rest of the world.

She also gave a speech where she said:

It is manifestly unfair and unjust that curry houses and members of our diaspora communities face having to deal with a second-class immigration system while chefs from the EU can waltz into this country and straight into employment.

Patel was not the only politician to make grand promises. In 2016, Brexit minister David Davies hosted theBangladesh Caterers Association’s huge annual dinner, and he promised benefits for every community and that “there will be something for BCA.”

Post-Brexit, things don’t seem to be working out as promised. By January this year, May had refused to increase immigration to support Britain’s curry industry. Curry restaurants continue to close, squeezed by rising costs and staffing issues. In fact, it might have made things worse, with no change to non-EU visas while reducing the number of Eastern European staff, who were covering some of the shortfall (it is estimated 5-6,000 of 150,000 curry workers are Eastern European, and maybe as many as 10,000). The falling pound has also meant higher costs to import ingredients.

In contrast to Patel’s offers, this year’s General Election brought further promises from the Conservatives to reduce immigration, along with a levy of £2000 for every business employing foreign workers.

Restaurant owner Oli Khan felt ‘betrayed’: “It is very disappointing that Brexit campaigners such as Priti Patel and Boris Johnson, who said the curry industry would be better off the EU, have not kept their promises.” Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association said that, “My organisation supported Brexit for several reasons but the main reason was to bring people from abroad to help our industry to survive.”

It remains to be seen what the effects of this ‘betrayal’ is, but with the referendum won, there is less attempt to communicate with the curry-houses. According to Oli Khan ““We are angry as the Brexit ministers are not responding to our calls, they are not responding to our mails.””

Theresa May’s “Curry Curse”

Last week, at the Brighton Fringe, I went to see Chris Parkinson‘s new poetry show Unpopular Culture. Chris also appeared as the support act, with his talk on the Eating Habits of Politicians. It’s a great piece, featuring Thatcher’s obsession with eggs, how to eat a hotdog, and that bacon sandwich (which apparently gets several pages in Labour’s internal report on the 2015 election).

One thing I’d not heard about was the story of Teresa May’s local curry houses. Many Indian restaurants have ongoing problems with staffing and are restricted from hiring overseas experts because of Britain’s immigration laws.  This has become particularly controversial after last year’s Brexit campaign. One group of restaurateurs supported leave, partly in the hope of allowing more non-EU immigration. Pasha Kandaker, head of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, was reported as saying “My organisation supported Brexit for several reasons but the main reason was to bring people from abroad to help our industry to survive.”

Theresa May’s announcements after the referendum were the cause of much of this disappointment. But this is not the first time that Theresa May has been involved in curry-related controversy. Prior to being Prime Minister, from 2010 to 2016, May served as Home Secretary. She promised to bring net migration below 100,000 but despite this, migration continued to rise.

In May 2011, Theresa May opened a the Innovation Indian restaurant in her Maidenhead constituency. In March 2012, it was raided by immigration officers from the UK Borders Agency, part of the home office. Five suspected illegal immigrants from Bangladesh were detained. Innovation now appears to be closed and the website is down.

A report in the Daily Mirror goes on to say that eighteen months earlier “her ­favourite tandoori restaurant Malik’s in Cookham, near ­Maidenhead – where she signed the guestbook and was also pictured on their website – was raided and two suspected illegal workers caught. But the owner was not aware of their status.”

The Malik’s owners obviously bear no ill-will to May for what happened. She is still featured on the restaurant’s website of  as part of a gallery of stars who have eaten there – although she appears far below 80’s children’s TV stay Timmy Mallet.