Bearing down: Miliband used the phrase so many times it was like being in a maternity ward. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Bearing down: how Ed Miliband got tangled up in jargon

Antonia Quirke reviews World at One on Radio 4.

World at One
BBC Radio 4

Some praise for Martha Kearney. One of the memorable things about her lunchtime interview with Ed Miliband (16 May, 1pm) was the quiet, untriumphant way she stood back and allowed the politician to tie himself into knots with his favourite new phrase: “bearing down”. “The idea is to bear down on low-skilled immigration,” he said. “It’s important we bear down . . . I’m gonna bear down, er . . . I believe we should bear down as a country.” He said it no fewer than six times. It was like being in a maternity ward.

At least Miliband came over as a human being. Perhaps this was because Kearney, as his interlocutor, is evidently a well-balanced person not remotely interested in making World at One all about Martha Kearney – unlike Eddie Mair on PM, which has long been about the presenter fancying himself as a comedian and dropping all manner of “deadpan” routines into the show.

I suppose it is the destiny of all newsrooms to wind up a little like The Day Today. But John Humphrys’s Today interview with Nick Clegg on 15 May, on the subject of an EU referendum, only made him sound even more like a strange, Rumpelstiltskin figure who would fit right into Ron Burgundy’s crew in Anchorman, ever twisting the debate into yes-and-no questions and yelping victoriously when Clegg – perhaps foolishly – used the word “unpatriotic”.

Kearney managed to get Miliband to move from flatly refusing to “make false promises” about immigration to articulating a firm election pledge during the interview: that newcomers will have to “wait at least six months, if not longer”, before they can claim benefits.

She managed to achieve this in under two minutes. Often, she simply applies the word “perhaps” to the end of her sentences, opening the door to compromise. “With the freedom of movement, perhaps?” she  might say to Ed, building up to the more insistent, “What about now?”

You could sense Miliband’s pulse slow,  his natural discomfort fading, and he started to drop some of those unyielding phrases. (“No, I don’t think so. And let me tell you why!”) Kearney’s tone is key: it’s serene and never smug. But in truth her secret weapon as an interviewer is simply that she listens.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Peak Ukip

Photo: Hunter Skipworth / Moment
Show Hide image

Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

0800 7318496