I’ve got the brains, I’ve read the books – let’s make lots of money out of Baker Street’s finest

I have no idea whether Sherlock Holmes got his name from Sherlock Mews – but perhaps I can tell it to American tourists for £250 a head.

I feel a new terror when travelling on the bus, at least the 113 – and it’s because of the video cameras that observe and relay pictures of the passengers. There’s a screen placed just above the stairs, so while you wait on the bus as it inches through the clot of traffic that always builds up at the lights just before St John’s Wood Tube station, you are offered several vistas, shown in rotation, of your fellow “customers” (as Transport for London whimsically calls us) looking bored, or dopey, or fretful. People don’t look their best on these cameras but, even knowing this, I was unprepared for the shock I got when I caught a glimpse on the screen of a little old man waiting to get off and realised it was me.

Do not be deceived by the image that adorns this column: should you wish for a more accurate one, I suggest you find a bottle of Tipp-Ex and paint the hair white. Tempus fugit and all that, but these days it seems as though it’s running for its life. Yet, every so often, it loops round and meets you coming back the other way, as occurred when my mother announced that she had made a dentist’s appointment for us both the other day. I don’t know about you but I think 50 is too old to be going to the dentist with your mother, so I feigned illness and cancelled in the morning. Also, it was raining. It seems to be doing a lot of that at the moment.

Left to my own devices as I am at the moment – as I might have mentioned – I am given  to introspection, very much  of the unwelcome what-am- I-doing-with-my-life variety. I’m stuck, still, in a kind of limbo, without a real job, without any money until next Thursday, without a place I can call my own, without a girlfriend in the same country, without all sorts of things. One thought experiment that keeps cropping up unbidden revolves around what would happen if, should I choose to marry again, a putative mother-in-law peers through her lorgnette at me and asks, witheringly, “And what precisely are your prospects, Mr Lezard?”

So I am much cheered when my old friend the Moose comes round. (He has not, I suspect, really come to see me: he has come to see another old friend of mine, Amel, who has nipped over from Paris for a couple of days.) He also has no money, although that is because the machine ate his bank card. He does have an American Express card, which, as we discover, and as I suspected, is one of the most useless bits of plastic that can burden this unhappy planet, for it is seemingly not accepted by any restaurant within walking distance except the punitively expensive Royal China on Baker Street.

As I toy with my boiled rice, I prick up my ears as the Moose tells us of an interesting wrinkle a writer friend of his has come up with in Paris: he signs rich Americans up for walking tours around his neighbourhood and asks them to pay 250 (euros or dollars; it matters little) for the privilege. That’s each. He takes them  here and there, coming up  with any old rubbish about the area – it’s near the Odéon, so the details are not exactly obscure – and then, as the Moose puts it, condescends to let them buy him an enormous dinner at the fanciest restaurant he knows. He is, we are assured, very fat and very  well off as a result.

This gets me thinking. One of the few pleasant things about my situation is that I live fairly near Baker Street. And it has not escaped my attention that there has been a revival of interest in its best-known resident. Slowly, the rusting cogs of my brain start creaking into action. “Hmm,” I say aloud. “I wonder . . .”

OK, I think you’re beginning to get the idea. Although it sounds rather like hard work, the idea of shepherding ten to 15 wealthy Americans back and forth from the Hovel to Sherlock Mews at 250 smackers a head and telling them that that was where Sir Arthur got Holmes’s first name from – I have no idea whether this is true, or whether the name Sherlock Mews post-dates the detective; maybe a reader can enlighten me – has its attractions.

Like many schemes that are dreamed up on licensed premises, this may prove to be pie in the sky. But, as I go online and contemplate the  area of desolation that, once again, is my bank account,  I think maybe now is the time to get off my arse and do something for once. Then I would be able to look Lady Strebe-Greebling, or whoever, squarely in the pince-nez and say, “Madam, I am an entrepreneur.”

Who is that little old man in the CCTV screen? Stock image: Getty.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The seven per cent problem

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
Show Hide image

Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.