Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Independent's Johann Hari say that William Shawcross's biography of the Queen Mother ignores her shameless profligacy and her admiration for the far right:

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon kept up her support for far-right politics throughout her life. She did everything she could to bolster the torturing, white-minority tyrannies in Rhodesia and South Africa, because -- as the journalist Paul Callan, who knew her, put it -- "she is not fond of black folk". Our beaming Queen Mum was Alf Garnett in a tiara.

In the Financial Times, Martin Wolf says that the Vince Cable's "mansion tax" is an excellent idea, but replacing council tax with a local income tax would be disastrous:

Mr Cable is quite right: the UK should try to raise more revenue from property taxes. But the best way to reach his objective is not to abolish council tax, but to extend it. A local income tax, by contrast, would damage incentives to work and push higher earners out of local jurisdictions with substantial numbers in relative poverty. This is a recipe for social segmentation.

In the Times, Roy Hattersley argues that it is up to Labour members to convince ministers that the party can win on a social-democratic platform:

Conferences are designed as opportunities for beleaguered leaderships to inspire the dispirited rank and file with belief in victory. At Brighton the process has to be reversed. The "floor" must convince the "platform" that all is not lost -- that social democracy can provide a winning formula. And the persistently faint-hearted have to be taught that, even if their pessimism is justified, they champion a cause that it is worth defending in the last ditch.

The Guardian's Simon Jenkins says that international summits continue to substitute grandstanding for action:

The uncritical respect accorded them by statesmen and commentators is absurd -- largely because they are all enjoying a gigantic junket. Like meetings of the G8 and G20, they are not just a waste of time and money -- they convey a false impression that statesmen are acting, rather than parading. They imply that policy is somehow being influenced by the physical communion of the great and not so good. As such they induce cynicism among those they claim to be helping.

The Economist's Bagehot column says that politicians need to stop arguing about the past and start focusing on the future:

All parties need to explain the background and evidence for their policies. But in general, as every pollster avers, it is the future more than the past that motivates voting. This is as true in Britain as it is in America. History has indeed been kind to Churchill, and not only because he wrote it; but his wartime heroics didn't save him from election defeat in 1945. Tony Blair won a third term in 2005 because, despite the debacle in Iraq, he still seemed a better future bet than the alternative.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.