A woman looks at Piet Mondrian's 1927 piece Composition with Red, Blue and Grey, on display ahead of sale at Sotheby's June 18. Photo: Getty
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Cheering on Italy, dressing as a Mondrian and Dave’s date at Chiltern Firehouse

The PM sat down for supper with his wife and two friends. With EU negotiations at fever pitch, Iraq crumbling and snappers outside, a politician with taste might have cried off that night.

Back in March, shortly after it opened, I asked Chiltern Firehouse for a reservation. The suddenly hip Marylebone joint came back with an offer: “We can fit you in on 6 July.” A three-and-a-half-month wait? Even the ability to pronounce the surname of its New York owner, André Balazs (it rhymes with Farage), matters not to the receptionist. It is social connections that get you into this restaurant.

A-listers tripped easily through its doors: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie Minogue, Lily Allen; the list is so jaw-dropping, it’s a wonder that any food gets masticated on the premises. (Perhaps that’s a good thing: when a friend pulled a few strings for a table for me and my team on the Evening Standard diary last month, we didn’t exactly come back raving about the monkfish.)

We teased away at this elitism for months. Then one recent evening the cherry was finally dropped into this absurd cocktail: as Lindsay Lohan pirouetted for the paparazzi outside, David Cameron sat down for supper with his wife and two friends. (My phone buzzed immediately with a disbelieving text message from a fellow diner.) With EU negotiations at fever pitch, Iraq crumbling and snappers outside, a politician with taste might have cried off that night. I’m told that even the PR maestro Matthew Freud, sitting at another table, looked surprised to see him there.


Drop dead glamorous

“Turn right for the lobster,” said Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler magazine, at the “Art Ball” the magazine hosted with Christie’s auction house on 12 June. We had all been asked to dress as works of art. I had come as a Mondrian; others had come as Tretchikoff’s blue woman and Michelangelo’s David. In the next room, to which Reardon was directing me, was a table laid out like a Dutch still life, overflowing with beef, fruit, hams and the aforementioned lobster. What was missing was the bitter peeled lemon, the rotting fruit: the symbols in the Dutch paintings that remind us such earthly delights are passing vanities. But there was one memento mori in the room: a skull. A guest wore a balaclava encrusted with fake diamonds, after Damien Hirst. Even mortality is glamorous these days.


Home from home

Last Saturday night, on the side street in Soho where I live, the waiters sneaking ciggies and lovers kissing were disturbed as 11 men in England shirts came through chanting: “Where the f*** are we, where the f*** are we?” Lost souls. The Aussies living opposite and the Koreans and Americans beside me all leaned out of windows to watch them.

This was not a usual sight in the melting pot of Soho. Three blocks further east and these lads would find themselves in a sea of blue shirts on Frith Street where Bar Italia was screening the big match (and where I was going to watch). My footballing loyalties were forged in 1982, staying up for the final with my Italian father. Paolo Rossi’s name was spoken like a saint’s. I remember Maurice Glasman, the Blue Labour peer, telling me how confused he was watching the 1966 World Cup final with German-Jewish relatives. He was primed to cheer for England but when Germany scored they whooped; despite all the history, it was still home.

London, a city of immigrants, has many teams to cheer for and countries left behind.


Guilty consciences

Flicking through Hard Choices, I was struck by how warmly Hillary Clinton wrote about our Cathy Ashton in her memoirs. The outgoing EU foreign affairs commissioner’s successes have been largely ignored in this country. Brokering reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo can’t have been easy and she has been chipping away at the nuclear impasse with Iran with some rewards.

Ashton comes across as a good listener, perhaps more appreciated by those across the table than by her own side. She is not bothered about personal PR, nor photo opportunities with Angelina Jolie.

Who will No 10 nominate to replace her? Political tribalism means it will be a Tory. As for qualifications, they may be less relevant than guilty consciences in Downing Street. Leon Brittan and Peter Mandelson both went to Brussels because they had been unfairly sacked from cabinet. So Andrew Mitchell for an aid – or bicycling – portfolio, or Andrew Lansley, Cameron’s old boss at Conservative Central Office, perhaps. After the delicate touch Lansley displayed in handling NHS reform, what could go wrong?


Dionne and dusted

Several different PRs call to ask if I would like to go to see Dionne Warwick sing a late gig at the Dover Street Arts Club, revamped a few years ago and now more a home to Euro and Asian bling than struggling artists. As a sweetener they all promise that Kate Moss will be at the gig. They can’t see my shrug down the phone line: it’s Dionne Warwick I want to see.

When I arrive, Topshop owner Philip Green is pacing around the street outside, pestering his mobile phone. I presume he is ringing his dear friend Kate to find out where she has got to. In the velvet-lined basement downstairs Warwick is tetchy, chiding the audience for filming her on their mobile phones and not applauding her backing band’s solos. Last year, she was declared bankrupt, down to a couple of fur coats, a pair of diamond earrings and $1,000 in cash. Burt Bacharach’s muse still has a voice like honey but clearly also pride like peanut brittle. Can you blame her, out touring again aged 73, to such an entitled crowd?

The main table below the stage was empty, likely reserved for La Moss, who never did show. Still, Philip Green bounded up to Warwick afterwards. “Didn’t we have such fun in Monaco?” crooned the Topshop tycoon. Warwick looked blank. “Who are you?” she asked.

If the comeback tour fails, there’s always the reception desk at the Firehouse.

Joy Lo Dico edits the Londoner’s Diary in the Evening Standard

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

Photo: Getty Images
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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.