The World Transformed at Labour Party Conference, Brighton

The last time I attended Labour Party Conference was also at Brighton but in 2000. I wrote and performed an ensemble political cabaret show at The Greys pub to an audience of party delegates and apparatchiks escaping the conference proper. Among the cast of 4 of The Soapbox Cabaret that night was a young up-and-coming comedian, Russell Brand.

So it was fitting that on my return to Conference that Russell should be there – but this time not performing The Song of the Spin Doctor dressed half in drag, but speaking soberly at a morning meeting about Addiction alongside Labour’s Shadow Health Spokesperson John Ashworth. The most notable thing that has changed in those 17 years though, wasn’t me or Russell, but the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Admittedly I avoided the actual Conference and stuck to Momentum’s brilliant fringe event, The World Transformed. Even the most tedious sounding events had queues stretching around the block like a gig by the hot new band or the release of a Triple A console game – except it was a bunch of people you’d barely heard of debating how to build stronger links with the Trade Unions. Chunky Mark, The Artist Taxi Driver, said “it’s a Conference but it’s like a f*cking festival mate”, when I interviewed him in the street outside a massively oversubscribed event where scores of people were turned away.

At an evening event, Governing from the Radical Left, John McDonnell was greeted onstage with a standing ovation. Paul Mason prowled the space like a glowering rock star. McDonnell summed it up best when he said the Party felt optimistic once more (when was the last time?).

Brighton pier sunset

When I’d decided to max out my credit card all those years ago to take a comedy show to the Labour Party Conference (I ran the show for a week in Bournemouth the previous year, 1999, also starring Russell) it came out of the frustration of my first Conference in 1997 as an international delegate. The first Conference after the landslide General Election victory that had returned Labour to power after 18 dismal, divisive, bitter years. It should have been a massive party, a celebration – there should have been a sense of optimism. But there was none – just a dampening of expectations. On Monday it felt like the carnival had finally arrived in Brighton, 20 years late, not to celebrate a victory, but to prepare for one.

#TWT2017

New Era Estate residents give update & reflect on campaign with Russell Brand

25th March (which happened to be Good Friday) marked the first anniversary of the opening of the Trew Era Cafe so it seemed like a good time to meet up with some of the residents on the New Era Estate in Hoxton plus Russell Brand, to get an update on their situation.

There was so much widespread support for the campaign to save the New Era that I’m often asked how things are going now for the residents once the estate was bought by Dolphin Living. By all accounts everything is working out well with the new landlords and the spirit of the New Era Estate is as strong as ever.

There’s a great message for everybody from the residents in the video above – stick together and never give up.

 

Trew Era Cafe on the New Era Estate Hoxton

I hadn’t been back to the Trew Era Cafe since its opening back in March 2015 so I was keen to see how this inspiring project was progressing. The cafe was one of the outcomes of the successful campaign by residents of the New Era Estate in Hoxton to fend off developers. My old mate Russell Brand opened the Trew Era Cafe as a social enterprise with the aim of supporting people in abstinence based recovery. The aim was also to provide a community space for local people and to source as much produce as possible from the surrounding area.

Trew Era Cafe vegan food

The herbs used in the delicious range of vegan and vegetarian dishes are grown in pallet planters in the walled garden at the back. All the produce is organic. They plan to find allotment space to grow their own vegetables which will form part of the training programme.

Trew Era Cafe coffee

The coffee is roasted by Mission Coffee nearby in Clapton, who also provide barista training. The jams and granola are produced locally. Edit Hats beanies are on sale, for each purchase Edit donate a hat to the homeless. For every postcard bought from the selection hanging on the wall a tree is planted in Scotland and you can even go along and help with the planting. There are free Sunday morning meditation drop-ins and regular evening meetings.

Trew Era Cafe Hoxton

There’s a great friendly vibe around the place and the coffee is fantastic. The plan is to hopefully expand into an vacant unit next door to provide a more diverse range of training and support. Hopefully the Trew Era message will spread beyond Hoxton to the wider world. To badly paraphrase Billy Bragg – the revolution is just an organic soy milk cappuccino away.

Socially conscious coffee at the Trew Era Cafe

Thursday morning Russell Brand launched the Trew Era Cafe in an empty shop on the New Era Estate, Hoxton. The cafe is a social enterprise aiming to provide support for people recovering from addiction whilst also serving up fresh locally sourced food and drink at reasonable prices (£1.80 for a cappuccino in Hoxton is a rarity). As Russell explains in the video above, the long term aspiration is for the Trew Era to grow its own food locally and Hackney Council have donated land to that end. And the coffee is bloody good as well.

Amongst the opening day throng I spotted Chunky Mark The Artist Taxi Driver who’d driven Russell to the opening that morning and shot a video for his essential viewing YouTube channel. Although I’d only taken my camera along to take a few snaps I couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab a quick chat with Mark in what is now one of my favourite episodes of Drift Report with Mark’s section pretty much unedited.

 

 

Russell Brand and the Sweets Way Revolution

I was back in the Rotten Borough of Barnet on Tuesday night as my old pal Russell Brand staged a sleepover at the Sweets Way Estate in protest at the planned demolition of the houses by Barnet Council and Annington Homes to make way for … yes you guessed it … luxury flats.

The brutality of the eviction process, which has been going on for weeks, has been shocking as families have literally been thrown out onto the streets. Residents who have been Council tenants for years have had their homes taken from them and offered emergency accommodation elsewhere out of the Borough. Barnet are clearly embarking on a large scale privatisation of their housing stock and a thorough, psychopathic social cleansing project.

The Sleepover was a way of using Russell’s profile to draw large scale attention to the cause which has oddly had little attention in the mainstream press. And it seems to have worked gauging by the number of camera crews and dictaphone toting journos that followed him around like a cluster of ducklings everywhere he went.

And he turned up with an ice cream van dispensing free ice cream of course.

The atmosphere was fun, jocular, playful. They were loads of excited kids running around. One fella had come all the way from Plymouth, others came from Bristol, and Coventry … and there I was thinking about the long journey back to Leytonstone from Totteridge and Whetstone.

Now the fun night has finished we have to keep the pressure on Annington Homes and Barnet Council to end their social cleansing plans for the Sweets Way estate and let the families return to their homes.

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More info:

https://sweetswayresists.wordpress.com/

London’s Prophet and the death of Peter Cook

Rainbow George Weiss texts me at least once a week. The other day I received one which read, “The Quest for LondonWonderCity will …. all being well begin at the General Election when the People of London will be gifted the opportunity to Vote for their City to become its own WonderCityState with its own electronic Wonder Currency … and much more beside”. Just another Monday.

I first met George in 2007 when I was asked to be a guest on Russell Brand’s Radio 2 show. Russell had asked me to debate against George, who was waging a campaign to get Russell to run for Mayor of London in 2008. He’d successfully enlisted the help of The Sun newspaper and was attempting to get one million people to pledge their support. I confess I gave George’s WonderCity based in Hampstead short shrift but somehow our on-air encounter bound us together.
He continued to badger late-night phone-ins with his vision of London as the centre of an Isles of Wonder. He is unrelenting in his prophesying.
I sat in the Heathcote Arms and watched Danny Boyle unveil his Isles of Wonder to the world at the Opening Ceremony of London Olympics. George was sanguine – he’d seen it all before of course, in one of his many visions while tramping over Hampstead Heath.
When he texted me again on Tuesday to flag the article in The Independent about the 20th anniversary of Peter Cook’s death on 9th January, I decided that the occasion should be marked and proposed filming an interview.

It was my mate Russell, then a lanky Drama School graduate venturing onto the London fringe scene, who’d told me all about George back in 1999. How he’d made a pilgrimage to Peter Cook’s London home in Perrin’s Walk  with his comedy partner in crime Karl Theobald (one of the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with). George had encountered them in the street then invited them inside where he played them some of the hundreds of hours of audio taped conversations he’d had with Peter in 1985. Russell and Karl have never been the same since.

I’d interviewed George before, but he’d been more into pushing a film idea where Russell plays the Wizard of Wonders with George taking up the role of Apprentice Prophet. I was keen to hear about his father, Leopold Weiss, said to be the finest diamond cutter in Hatton Garden and also stories about the ‘real’ Peter Cook. But what I got instead was the tale of George’s lost years in Ireland and dealings with an exorcist in Chalk Farm referred to him by legendary psychiatrist RD Laing.

Finally with the anniversary of Cook’s death looming George was ready to open up on the final days – the dash to the Royal Free at Hampstead hours after Ian Dury‘s son was born (‘one in, one out’, my Nan would say). He had an agenda – the revival of Peter’s What Party with Russell taking on the role of President and leading the people of London into a glorious future. I sat and patiently listened to his plans for a peaceful take-over then read out the text message I’d just received from Russell telling me to make sure George played me some of his famous Cook audio recordings. He relented – but on the condition that I include it in the final cut of the video, ‘Of course I would’, I told him.

He spooled through the tape to these never-before-heard words from the comedy hero’s mouth. A great moment of comedic riffing? Some biting satire? A political diatribe? Revelations about his relationship with Dudley Moore? No. It was Peter Cook calling Robbie Coltrane a cunt. George’s eyes lit up and he laughed.

He texted me this morning to make sure I’d included the clip. I was unsure – what if Robbie Coltrane heard it and was hurt? Also was this the memory of Peter Cook we wanted to give people? ‘

Do you want that to be Peter’s message on this day?’ I replied.
‘One of them, yes definitely!’ he confirmed.

There was much that had to be left out – I got home at 5pm and crashed through the edit whilst still somehow attending to family duties. The rumours of top flight football match fixing, George was a serious gambler in the 1970s and played cards with Lord Lucan. There was also the Captain Kinky story that appeared in the Daily Star and George’s incarceration for selling LSD to a couple of undercover coppers, being labelled one of the king pins of the nascent Acid House scene. I’ll have to dig it all out some other time – once I’ve finished dealing with George’s torrents of texts.

There is something rotten in the London Borough of Barnet

My latest Trews Report is on a situation at West Hendon in the London Borough of Barnet that is so scandalous it is difficult to comprehend. There appears to be a confiscation of public assets that are then gifted to private companies on such a scale that it felt like the train I’d taken from Farringdon had transported me to Pinochet’s Chile rather than North-west London.

The Council estate on the edge of the Welsh Harp Reservoir is being demolished to make way for a series of private apartment blocks currently being punted to investors as buy-to-let opportunities. The Council residents are being shunted off to a purpose built block away from the Waterside to the carpark. Leaseholders who purchased their homes under Right-To-Buy are being given less than half their value and offered a 50% stake in one of the new homes. And non-secure tenants are either being moved to another regeneration estate or discharged into the private sector. The SSSI rating of the Reservoir is being removed to allow for more construction around the lakeside.

It is a theft of public assets on an epic scale that would even make Berlusconi blush.

There is clearly something rotten in the Borough of Barnet – where the Mayor is a private landlord who receives large amounts of housing benefit from his own authority

Where at least half the councilors are private landlords.

Where the Tory Councillor responsible for housing, Tom Davey, refers to “benefit claiming scum”

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