Camden's burning

Last night's fire is a blow to Camden. But in re-development, it must retain its character

It’s Sunday and I’ve just been through Camden Town, on my way back home to Kentish Town from the Chinese New Year celebrations in Trafalgar Square and Chinatown. As I changed buses, I saw first-hand the massive amount of damage done to the canalside market by last night’s fire.

The destruction is extensive, and the danger from the damaged buildings so great that all the markets have been closed for the day. The police cordon extends most of the way down the roads leading away from the scene. As I walked over the canal to catch my bus home, I could see fire crews on cranes still pouring water over the gutted shops and market stalls, more than 18 hours after the fire started.

It was so sad to see one of my favourite parts of Camden in such a state. I have been talking up the excellence of its markets a lot lately, seeing as one of the standard Mayoral interview questions seems to be, ‘Where do you shop for clothes?’ (I do hope all the other candidates are getting that one). But of course it’s not just good for racks of second-hand bargain jackets; Camden’s markets support a wide range of entrepreneurs, artisans and craftspeople – unique small businesses that must all be suffering today.

It was a reminder, too, that we have to cherish the individuality of London’s various ‘urban villages’ - whether Camden Town or Chinatown - and support them, not take them for granted. The London Chinatown Chinese Association are doing a great job maintaining the spirit and character of their area, as shown by their tremendous work organising today’s celebrations. The stallholders and small business owners in Camden are similarly united as they find themselves under pressure from circling developers. I have joined them more than once in recent years to object to the encroachment of shiny new shopping centres into the area.

This latest blow is a challenge for all of to make sure the damaged buildings are restored for the benefit of the existing businesses and householders, and that this disaster is not used as an excuse for another characterless mall to spring up in their place.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Paul Nuttall is like his party: sad, desperate and finished

The party hope if they can survive until March 2019, they will grow strong off disillusionment with Brexit. They may not make it until then. 

It’s a measure of how far Ukip have fallen that while Theresa May faced a grilling over her social care U-Turn and Jeremy Corbyn was called to account over his past, the opening sections of Andrew Neill’s interview with Paul Nuttall was about the question of whether or not his party has a future.

The blunt truth is that Ukip faces a battering in this election. They will be blown away in the seats they have put up a candidate in and have pre-emptively retreated from numerous contests across the country.

A party whose leader in Wales once said that climate change was “ridiculous” is now the victim of climate change itself. With Britain heading out of the European Union and Theresa May in Downing Street, it’s difficult to work out what the pressing question in public life to which Ukip is the answer.

Their quest for relevance isn’t helped by Paul Nuttall, who at times tonight cast an unwittingly comic figure. Pressing his case for Ukip’s burka ban, he said earnestly: “For [CCTV] to work, you have to see people’s faces.” It was if he had intended to pick up Nigel Farage’s old dogwhistle and instead put a kazoo to his lips.

Remarks that are, written down, offensive, just carried a stench of desperation. Nuttall’s policy prescriptions – a noun, a verb, and the most rancid comment underneath a Mail article – came across as a cry for attention. Small wonder that senior figures in Ukip expect Nuttall to face a move on his position, though they also expect that he will see off any attempt to remove him from his crown.

But despite his poor performance, Ukip might not be dead yet. There was a gleam of strategy amid the froth from Nuttall in the party’s pledge to oppose any continuing payment to Brussels as part of the Brexit deal, something that May and Corbyn have yet to rule out.

If May does manage to make it back to Downing Street on 8 June, the gap between campaign rhetoric – we’ll have the best Brexit, France will pay for it – and government policy – we’ll pay a one-off bill and continuing contributions if need be – will be fertile territory for Ukip, if they can survive as a going concern politically and financially, until March 2019.

On tonight’s performance, they’ll need a better centre-forward than Paul Nuttall if they are to make it that far. 

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

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