Brighton beach. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Squeezed Middle: It's time to move on from London

“The idea is that we won’t have to move again. Not for a long time.”

We’re standing on top of Kite Hill, with London spread out before us like a grubby blanket. A layer of fine smog hangs over the skyline, punctured here and there by the new City skyscrapers, a defiant cluster of one-fingered salutes. I narrow my eyes against the spring sunlight and say goodbye to it all, bit by bit.

Goodbye to Holloway Road, ungentrified and ungentrifiable; to the popcorn-smelling, sticky-carpeted Odeon where I went on my first-ever date. Goodbye to the Highbury Fields playground and the football pitches where my sister and I used to roller-skate on a Saturday morning. Goodbye to the Homerton hospital, where I first looked into my babies’ eyes, and to Buckingham Palace, which I have not visited once in 34 years. Bella phoned this morning to tell us that she would accept our offer on her house in Brighton.

“Jesus!” said Curly, staring at me in disbelief. “Are we actually going to do it?”

“I think we really are.”

For some reason I laugh each time I think about it: Curly and I, the owners of a grown-up house. I try to imagine us strolling nonchalantly from room to capacious room; sitting at a proper kitchen table; pottering about in the garden on a Sunday. But I can’t do it, any more than I can picture a miniature poodle performing Swan Lake.

Larry is also having some trouble getting his head around the idea. “But what if we get to Brighton and make new friends and then we have to move again?” he asked, with a worried frown, when I told him the news. Like most children, Larry is deeply conservative. Even the most minor deviation from his daily routine – a cheese sandwich cut in the wrong way, or served on the wrong plate – can throw him into a spin. Fortunately he has no idea what an upheaval lies before him.

“The idea is that we won’t have to move again. Not for a long time.”

“But how do you know?”

I don’t know, of course. It may well all be a disaster. We have no friends in Brighton, no childcare and no jobs. To say we are taking a punt on this is to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I feel quietly sure that it is the right thing to do. Looking back on the past few years I can see that London and I have been going through a protracted divorce, characterised by all the usual stages of relationship breakdown: denial, rage, grief and finally acceptance. We are no longer right for each other. It’s time to move on.

“It’ll still be here, you know,” says Curly. He takes my hand and I take Larry’s. Moe stirs in his buggy, swept awake by the chilly breeze. It’s nearly teatime. We walk, hand in hand, back to the station, where a train is waiting to take us home.

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 03 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, NEW COLD WAR

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

There's something missing from our counter-terrorism debate

The policy reckoning that occured after the 2005 terrorist attacks did not happen after the one in 2016. 

“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun.” That satirical lyric about Nazi rocket scientists has come to mind more than few times watching various tech giants give testimony in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, one of the underreported sub-plots of life at Westminster.

During their ongoing inquiry into hate crime in the United Kingdom, committee chair Yvette Cooper has found a staggering amount of hate speech being circulated freely on the largest and most profitable social media platform. Seperately, an ongoing investigation by the Times has uncovered how advertising revenue from Google and YouTube makes its way straight into the coffers of extremist groups, ranging from Islamist extremists to white supremacists and anti-Semites.

One of the many remarkable aspects of the inquiry has been the von Braunesque reaction by the movers and shakers at these tech companies. Once the ad revenue is handed out, who cares what it pays for? That’s not my department is the overwhelming message of much of the testimony.

The problem gains an added urgency now that the perpetrator of the Westminster attacks has been named as Khalid Masood, a British-born 52-year-old with a string of petty convictions across two decades from 1982 to 2002. He is of the same generation and profile as Thomas Mair, the white supremacist behind the last act of domestic terrorism on British shores, though Mair’s online radicalisation occurred on far-right websites, while Masood instead mimicked the methods of Isis attacks on the continent.  Despite that, both fitted many of the classic profiles of a “lone wolf” attack, although my colleague Amelia explains well why that term is increasingly outmoded.

One thing that some civil servants have observed is that it is relatively easy to get MPs to understand anti-terror measures based around either a form of electronic communication they use themselves – like text messaging or email, for instance – or a physical place which they might have in their own constituencies. But legislation has been sluggish in getting to grips with radicalisation online and slow at cutting off funding sources.

As I’ve written before, though there  are important differences between these two ideologies, the radicalisation journey is similar and tends to have the same staging posts: petty criminality, a drift from the fringes of respectable Internet sub-cultures to extremist websites, and finally violence.  We don’t yet know how closely Masood’s journey follows that pattern – but what is clear is that the policy rethink about British counter-terror after the July bombings in 2005 has yet to have an equivalent echo online. The success of that approach is shown in that these attacks are largely thwarted in the United Kingdom. But what needs to happen is a realisation that what happens when the rockets come down is very much the department of the world’s communication companies. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.