On reflection

Jeremy Corbyn is a godsend to British politics

Peter Hain, Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair, Yvette Cooper… the list of Labour bigwigs jumping up and down hysterically warning of a Jeremy Corbyn victory in the Labour party leader election grows longer by the day. They say that a man who is winning, speaking to overflowing rallies, is an election loser. They say that a man who proposes an idea as novel as a quantitative easing for ordinary people peddles the politics of yesteryear. They say that new members entering the party to vote for Corbyn are mischief makers, to be weeded out and disqualified, when if the same new members had lent their force to the predictable three – Cooper, Burnham and Kendall – no-one would have questioned their motives. They say they are modernisers yet defend tooth and nail the status quo.

"It isn't fair", cries Tony Blair

“It isn’t fair”, cries Tony Blair

Jeremy Corbyn is a godsend to British politics. He’s an authentic anti-establishment figure, his age alone proof of a provenance untarnished by focus-group testing and marketeering. He can convincingly claim to speak for the working class and connect with blue Labour in a way the geeky Ed Miliband never could, winning these lost supporters back from UKIP and the Conservatives. He can take the wind out of the sails of the SNP and in doing so, save the United Kingdom. (Tony Blair warns of Labour being annihilated – what, if not annihilation, has been his party’s fate in Scotland, its one-time stronghold and Blair’s own native country?) He can offer a true opposition when more and more voters feel that all parties are the same, that politics has become meaningless because the outcome is always the same, regardless of whose box we tick on the ballot paper. He can even offer an alternative vision of the EU and Britain’s place in it, just when Cameron is putting the terms of our membership up for debate.

The process of electing a new leader was designed to weaken the trade unions, who – it was felt – had tipped the scales in favour of the wrong Miliband, Ed (the right Miliband, seeing his career was going nowhere, left his constituents in South Shields to their fate to take on a £300,000-a-year job at a New York charity). Perhaps the idea was that more mainstream participants in the process would make it that much harder for a candidate of the left to become leader. And yet, it appears the opposite is happening. Like every other manipulative tactic of the past, the move has backfired – one need only think of devolution, which, instead of producing a permanent Labour government in Edinburgh, has resulted in the Nationalists running the show, and the direct election of the London mayor which, incredibly, handed the capital to a posh Tory.

Time and time again, Labour modernisers have given us more democracy only to be sent packing as a result. One almost feels sorry for them.

Eating and drinking, London, Things to do now

Gelupo: London’s new favourite gelateria

It used to be London’s best-kept secret, but this week, Gelupo – Soho’s celebrated ice-cream parlour – has burst out into the open. Formerly, only the initiated knew of Jacob Kenedy’s gelateria discreetly hidden away in Archer Street. But now that the flagship has opened at Cambridge Circus – where Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue intersect – there’ll be no escaping the sweet temptation.


The secret’s out: Gelupo now occupies a prime location

It’s gelato in the best Italian tradition – authentic, well-made, and laudably free from American-style gimmickry: all you get is straight-up, honest flavours. The chocolate sorbet is so wonderfully soft you want to bathe in it; blood orange has an exciting zest perfect for a hot summer afternoon, and in a nod to English palates, kiwi, elderflower and gin has a gentle zing.

Jacob Kenedy and his business partner Victor Hugo have great plans

Jacob Kenedy and his business partner Victor Hugo have great plans

Combining such culinary mastery with a prime location – who doesn’t pass this junction on their Soho sorties? – Gelupo Cambridge Circus is bound to become a favourite London hangout. And there’s more to come: Kenedy and his business partner Hugo are about to open a brand-new street food restaurant on the same site. It’s a welcome antidote to the new McDonald’s just across the road.

Cliché has it that Soho is losing its soul and falling victim to global forces. That this location has gone to two local lads should give us cause for joy.

On reflection, travel

A simple shrine to a great man

It was the ordinariness that got me. The unremarkable, almost indifferent ‘80s architecture, executed in concrete and red brick. The lack of a grand portal. The absence of ornaments, of gold and marble. Even the central water feature, which invites visitors to sit and reflect, is plain and undramatic.

This is not what I expected. When I headed downtown on the interstate on my way from the airport, the signpost to the Martin Luther King Center was on of my first impressions: this exit for the National Memorial. I imagined a something with a vast statute akin to Lincoln’s, a majestic palace of worship overrun with camera-toting pilgrims enthusiastically buying sentimental kitsch. The more I elaborated on the idea, the less I wanted to go. If America was going to have a National Memorial, I was convinced that it was bound to be in bad taste, disneyfied.


A most humble memorial

I put my visit off. It was on my list but like the Georgia Aquarium, never an urgent priority. More than a week had passed since my arrival when one morning I decided to leave my apartment block on Auburn Avenue, and head towards the Center, which was about ten blocks down the road. Auburn Avenue is a special place, full of atmosphere and history – opposite my block was the Royal Peacock Theater, a nightspot that had been going since 1937 (on the playbill anyone you ay care to mention, from Ray Charles to Marvin Gay to Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight), the Silver Moon barber shop, which announced itself as Atlanta’s oldest black owned business (established 1904), Big Bethel church, which has the legend JESUS SAVES in large blue capitals affixed to its spire, and two murals the size of the house. One is a quote by King: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. The other giant mural depicts a quote by one of King’s lieutenants, John Lewis. “Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and every hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution is complete”. And most importantly of all, this is the street where Martin Luther King was born, where he grew up, and where he served his congregation as a minister.


“Dr King’s plan of action in the Deep South”

I followed the road, which lay peacefully in the sun, past the boarded-up Thelma’s Rib Shack, past Ebenezer, King’s old church, until I reached the Center, which resembled a public library in a provincial town. As I entered, I saw the courtyard with its plain water feature and the Walk of Peace, a prefab esplanade whose greatest luxury was the protection it afforded from the sun.

Inside, there was a monumental plaque with a quote by Coretta Scott King, complete with a portrait of King’s widow, who survived him for 38 years. If I had considered Coretta as a counterpart to Jackie O – a tragic but apolitical widow – the exhibits on display taught me different. Coretta was a campaigner in her own right, with strongly-held convictions. Above all, like her husband, she preached a gospel of love.


Coretta Scott King was a campaigner in her own right

Among the contemporary artwork on the wall, commemorating slavery and condemning its continuation by another name, the exhibits are displayed in plain cases. There’s no Tiffany-style presentation for King’s Nobel Peace Prize medal – it may have pride of place in the modest entrance hall, but the packaging is simple. On the first floor, there’s a room dedicated to Rosa Parks, whose one-woman campaign of civil disobedience preceded that of King. Contemporary clippings of Parks’ court appearances make for fascinating reading: the tone of the newspaper is more factual and detached than I expected. A German mother walks in with her two young children and explains to them what Parks’ campaign was about. It’s touching she made the journey, and how she tries to explain racism in a way a child can understand without making it sound too scary or too sad.


Travelling light: Martin Luther King’s suitcase. To the right, the key to the room on whose balcony King was shot.

There’s a room dedicated to Gandhi, whose teachings King studied and applied. And perhaps most touching of all, there’s King’s travel suitcase, not much larger than an airplane tray and neatly packed with the bare necessities. Beside it is the key to the Memphis hotel room on whose balcony he was shot. The year was 1968. King had achieved his first objective; to smash all the legal structures that held segregation in place. Considering where to go from there, he was thinking about economic rights, economic equality. A bullet ended that.

In the courtyard, King’s voice comes tiny from an outdoor speaker. Sitting at one of the concrete tables and looking to his tomb, the words are chilling.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The following day, King was shot in the face.

Now the man’s body lies but a few yards away, next to that of his wife, in a simple tomb surrounded by pale blue swimming pool water.

Humble in appearances but forceful in spirit, there could be no better memorial to the couple.