“It’s a simple question,” said perennial thorn-in-the-side and Assembly Member Andrew Dismore at City Hall. Night czar Amy Lame looked perplexed and bemused. She understood, as everyone does, that a simple question does not automatically prescribe a simple answer.
It was, in reality, a moronic question and it was this: “Are residents protected from the night-time economy?”
What does that even mean? Mr Dismore insisted on a palliative “yes” or “no” answer, enticing Amy – or his other target, Philip Kolvin, chairman of the Night-Time Commission – into his schoolboy trap.
If “No,” was offered the job is done. A failure of duty is declared, a challenge to the entire enterprise is presented. If “Yes,” he can go in another direction.
“Yes,” said Amy Lame naively and Mr Dismore countered with tales of letter-box urinals and garden vomit splats, gushing like a prom night teenager on WKD.
Points of interest
There is no single answer. We can assume some kind of bell curve with people who want anarchy and foam parties 24/7 at one end and those who want London tucked up in bed before Newsnight at the other.
In between are the rest of us – residents some of the time, workers and revellers the rest. We are accepting of a modicum of high-jinks because we engage in them ourselves, because we are tolerant, because we may profit from them, or because we recognise we live in a global city.
There are 8.5million residents of Greater London so one can assume there are just that many experiences of the night-time economy. So 8.5million answers is the answer.
But, of course, the purpose was not to find an answer. The purpose was to score a meaningless political point which proved of such little value that a mild groan was the basement bargain item it procured.
The economy committee emerged from their quizzing over the night-time economy like blanket-clad, shotgun-hugging pensioners in a zombie movie, fearful of anything inexplicable rustling in the herbaceous border. That might be the role of a public protection committee, but the discussion concerned £26billion industry that has potential to grow by 20%.
The only way to “protect residents from the night time economy” using Mr Dismore’s draconian metric is a curfew, for which the committee seemed to have a subliminal yearning.
Missing the point
The London Assembly – like all political bodies – is prone to these little spats and wheezes. Conservatives, in particular, took umbrage at Ms Lame's previous record as four-letter-word anti-Tory tweeter which coloured the debate.
Shame, because the committee system is very useful. It is one of the few forums where interesting guests – experts and insiders – have time and space to offer interesting ideas and solutions.
Generally, they are open and expansive before guests are reminded that their openness is seen as vulnerability to be exploited by politicians who have an unrelective, indefatigable instinct for attack, like kittens with wool balls. Reeling from a low blow, the experts tend to slam down the shutters thus turning a meaningful discussion to meaningless guff.
In this instance there are genuine questions about the laggardly approach to this initiative with both Ms Lame and Mr Kolvin seeming to be under-prepared for the roles, enjoying tea and talking shops but not presenting anything that seemed to have much of a foundation or possess any concrete measurable targets.
What's the point?
Mr Dismore demanded Ms Lame and Mr Kolvin talk directly to residents to get their true experiences of the night-time economy, not waste their time with political representatives one step removed from the reality of people’s lives.
He didn’t seem to recognise the irony – although he may have stumbled on a genuine point of substance. What do these politicians do that the people couldn’t do themselves if liberated from the infantilisation of the political class?
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