I’m still broke, but a parking magazine could ride to my rescue

Well, there go the good times. In the end I had two cracking meals: one at the Casa Becci, as promised, and the other a very boozy Monday lunch at the Delaunay, where my friend Tom the Hat (he wears a hat, and did so, as Brian O'Nolan would have put it, long before it was fashionable or profitable to do so) is head barman. This kind of high-end crap is not always my cup of tea, but sometimes it is instructive to see how the other half, or perhaps 1 per cent, lives, and if you can't spunk a hundred quid on your beloved once in a blue moon, then what, frankly, is the point?

Rich pickings

It is extraordinary, looking around at the faces of the rich. Ruth Rogers was swanning around as if she owned the place (she does not); and there were people whose faces were creviced with evil influence and the influence of evil. The people who do own the place are blameless in this, I suppose, although I found myself perplexed at the waiters who kept trying to top up our glasses. Why do they do this? No sooner had I told one that this was unnecessary, than another one popped up, Hydra-like, and tried to do the same thing.

Here are my objections to the practice:

1) I drink faster than anyone else, so I get topped up more often and that's just not fair; and 2) I don't ask them to cut my effing food up for me, do I? Or is that what happens at even fancier restaurants? And do they, at really, really fancy restaurants, actually steer the food into patrons' mouths, in the manner of parents trying to get their infants to eat their pap? ("Look, here's the private jet, coming in to land . . . whoooshh"). And then an editor who used to commission me to write confused essays for the Sunday Times poked me in the arm as she was strolling past and said hello. We commented on the jittery times being faced by News International employees . . . but I couldn't help noticing she was eating at the Delaunay. Nor, in all fairness, would it have escaped her attention that so was I.

So I'm outta there, and happy to go back to saving my eating-out experiences for the full English breakfast at the local caff (best enjoyed with a bit of a hangover). It leaves the evening free to do improving things. And I have discovered something very improving: a wonderful little magazine called Parking News. I first heard about this after I got a message from its editor, Sarah Juggins, saying she couldn't lend me the £100 I was begging for in a past column, but if I wanted to write something for her magazine . . .

Well, this wouldn't be the first time I'd written about parking. It would, in fact, have been at least the third.

The first time, when I compared looking for a parking space to Dante's Purgatory, I ended up in Pseuds' Corner. (To date, the only time I've appeared by name there. Over a quarter of a century of professional writing and only one PC entry - it's pathetic, like I'm not even trying.) So I have form.

And now a couple of issues have been sent to me, c/o the Statesman. The September issue I have devoured carefully, savouring each morsel, like a meal at the Delaunay. I love the standfirst by the editorial comment on page seven: in which the editor "has a eureka moment as she realises something the profession has known for a while - the world revolves around parking issues". And you thought it was either something soppy like love, or something nasty like money, didn't you? Well, that's you told.

Through the prism offered by the magazine's 56 well-produced pages, you get the impression that this is not far from the truth.

Although it becomes quickly clear that much of the editorial work has devolved on Ms Juggins alone, there is still much to learn and this is not a place where scant material has been stretched painfully thin. I learn only now that there will be new 5p and 10p coins coming into circulation this April, and that if you'd gone to the British Parking Association's dinner at Drapers' Hall last November, you would have been treated to jokes from Barry Cryer while you sloshed the last of your claret around the glass.

Game on

My favourite part, though, is the crossword, a properly symmetrical cryptic one with every clue parking-related. "Cowardly? Check before you park on such lines (6)." Or this one, which after much brow-furrowing the Beloved and I managed to get: "eg R-E-S-E-R-V-E-D--P-A-R-K-I-N-G makes it gentler (9)". Answers on a postcard, please and no cheating by looking in the October issue. As for writing for them - well, I'm not sure that I'm worthy, but if the offer is still there, I'm game. I need that money again, I'm afraid.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The last Tsar

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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.