Pretending to be rich to get closer to the Beatles

If this is the price I have to pay to see rooms once frequented by Ringo Starr, then I'll pay it.

Over the years I have been living in the Hovel, I have taken a mild interest in the changing use of what was once the Beatles’ Apple Boutique, nearby on the corner of Baker Street and Paddington Street. (I love the band with a fierce love and have discovered that every possible stage and nuance of a relationship is covered by at least one of their songs.) For eight months, this was where they sold smelly Afghan coats, velvet loons and Mary Quant knock-offs. When they realised that because of their trusting, open-door policy everyone was nicking the stuff left, right and centre, they gave up and officially let the grubby hippies pick up everything they wanted for free.

I have always been grimly amused by the subsequent history of what used to be the epicentre of the doomed counterculture. When I moved into the Hovel, almost six years ago to the day, the ground floor of the building was an employment agency. Then, for about a year or so, when everyone got jobs and no one needed employment agencies any more, it was a void, its windows splashed with whitewash. Now, it has become an estate agent’s.

This is cheering news. Everyone needs estate agents’; the people who work in them are the unsung heroes and heroines of the neoliberal project. Many is the time I have, on a whim, feigned an interest in a property in one of the swankier parts of town, simply so I could stroll around some A-list gaff whilelistening to a git in a shiny suit exhaust his stock of superlatives.

Actually, never is the time I have done this and indeed the last time I did anything remotely like it was in 1994, when my wife announced that we were buying the weirdly planned and pleasingly shabby old house off the “wrong” side of the Uxbridge Road, where she and our cat and our children still reside. On that occasion, the estate agent was charming and honest and was also a huge fan of mine because I had been quoted on the back of Fever Pitch, a book that is popular among estate agents, for some reason.

Back to Baker Street. “A unique opportunity to own the ultimate piece of Beatles memorabilia”, announces the sign in an estate agent’s but curiously not the one on the ground floor of the building. The sign shows a charming street scene: the Apple Boutique being mobbed by a crowd of monochrome young people. (Just look at the people in that picture, or in the last minutes of the Let It Be film, as a bemused public looks up at the Savile Row roof on which the Beatles are playing their last gig – there’s not a merry prankster to be seen among them, just dark suits and slim ties.)

This, it would appear, is a picture of the end-of-the-show free-for-all sale, hence the crowd; the building in the picture has been painted white, in deference to the outraged complaints of local shopkeepers when it was first decorated with psychedelic rainbows. The design company, as I recall, wascalled the Fool. Oh, heady, innocent days when you could call your design company the Fool!

“A boutique development of five stunning apartments in the former headquarters of Apple, the Beatles’ record company”, continues the sign. “To preregister your interest, please contact . . . ” It goes on, incidentally, to boast that the company was formed a year or two after John Lennon was shot, although it doesn’t put it quite like that.

The snag is, I don’t think I’ve got enough money to put a financial stake into a property on the corner of Baker and Paddington Streets. A quick, nauseating look at my bank balance at the cashpoint of the Barclays directly opposite reveals that I have about £0.00 to last me until the end of the month, once I have taken certain essential expenses into account. (Michael Gove: it is not about the “poor decisions” I have made. I suppose I could stop drinking, if I listened to certain counsels. But I can’t, for reasons I will explain in terms that even an imbecile can understand – I have to drink this much in order to deaden the pain of having to drink this much in order to deaden the pain of having to live like this. Got that?)

However, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to walk through this heritage, to look out of windows that Ringo Starr once looked from. And if I am asked whether I have the funds, I could reply that I do, for I have love; and, if four of the building’s previous owners were correct, that is all I need.

'Tired of being shopkeepers', the Beatles give away thousands of pounds worth of stock at the Apple Boutique. Image: Getty

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 23 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Can Miliband speak for England?

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.