Stay classy: Wake up London’s Vanessa Bafoe
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Capital punishment: the launch of London Live

There can’t be a human being alive who would willingly sit through most of the new station’s original output.

London Live

According to a certain newspaper website, on the evening of the launch of London Live, the capital’s new television station, its proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev, invited 30 friends over to his place to celebrate this historic moment. Stephen Fry, Liz Hurley, Andrew Neil, Tracey Emin, Ed Miliband – you know, just your average midweek crowd. Lord, how I would have loved to have been there, my hand deep in a bowl of salted almonds.

Assuming a flat-screen was in play, what did his pals make of it? And if, as I’ve read, Tony Hall, the opera-loving director general of the BBC, was in attendance, what was his reaction to London Live’s magazine programme Not the One Show (weekdays, 7pm)? At the least, it must have put the axing of BBC3 in a new light, for beside the incontinent wittering of Not the One Show’s presenter Louise Scodie, even Snog Marry Avoid? starts to look like something Lord Reith might have enjoyed. Poker faces all round, one imagines.

Like BBC3, London Live is aiming to attract a young audience. I don’t think it should hold its breath. It may be that some people will tune in to watch the programmes it has bought in – Misfits, Peep Show . . . er, London’s Burning – but there can’t be a human being alive, young or old, who would willingly sit through most of its original output (under the terms of its licence, the channel must screen five and a half hours of London “news” a day). Ten minutes is my unbroken endurance record so far, though with wine and a takeaway I might be able to make it to 12.

The first show I caught was London Go (weekdays, 6.30pm), a guide to all that’s happening in the capital. Or not. Outside the O2 in Greenwich, Maleena Pone was talking to people as they arrived to see Justin Timberlake. “Do you play an instrument?” she asked a schoolgirl fan. “I play the clarinet,” said the girl. “I think Justin would like the clarinet,” said Pone. Keen to build the excitement, she made reference to the “flood” of people coming her way. Three blokes duly sauntered past. She then handed over to her co-presenter, who was outside the Assembly Hall in Islington, north London. “What’s Justin’s favourite colour?” she asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. We flipped back to Pone but she didn’t know either. My God. Even now, I’m on tenterhooks. Could someone tweet me the answer? Still, on the upside, it seems there are loos at the O2. Try finding that kind of information in Time Out.

A comfort break for me – I soothed myself by banging my head on the kitchen table –  and then it was time for Not the One Show. (See what they did there? I’d be tempted to quote the proverb “A cat may look at a king” if The One Show weren’t so dire.) This programme comes from the London Live studio, which is roughly twice the size of Phillip Schofield’s old broom cupboard and has a Do It All aesthetic that DIY fans will adore (think bar stools). The young panellists, among them the homes and property correspondent of the Evening Standard, which has lately come over all North Korean in the cause of its sister company, were doing a news quiz. “I see a haystack and a needle,” said one, gazing at a photograph of, yes, a needle and a haystack. “Something is . . . lost.” It turned out that the thing in question was – stay classy, guys – flight MH370.

Does this stuff count as “current affairs”? It seems that London Live is hoping it does, its definition of “news” having to do mostly with “connecting” people, with persuading them to join the big “debate” (ie, send us your tweets, which will fill up minutes of airtime and cost us nothing). Unfortunately, its idea of what constitutes a debate-worthy issue beggars belief. When I turned on Wake Up London (weekdays, 6am), the breakfast show, the presenter was asking: which are better, cats or dogs? A “reporter” had been despatched to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to gawp at cute kittens and droopy-faced mutts.

What’s that? You already knew there was a world-famous dogs home at Battersea? Oh, well. Plenty more insights to come. Next week: London Live reveals that Tower Bridge sometimes opens right up. Plus, cabbies: aren’t they comedians? Do send us your texts on that one!

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser