Poor old Hackney. Not only has the London borough becomes a byword for violent crime and social deprivation, not only was it branded Britain’s worst place to live by Channel 4 a couple of years ago, now even our home secretary says that she wouldn’t feel safe walking its streets by night.
I’ve lived in Hackney for the last six years, in a number of houses, and like most middle-class journalists who like to file ethnographic dispatches from their homes in the borough, I love it—the diversity, the nightlife, the entertainment, yadda yadda. And not once in that time have I been mugged, burgled, pickpocketed or stabbed. I’ve never known a place’s reputation be so out of kilter with the reality—at least as I’ve experienced it. But remarks like Jacqui Smith’s have nevertheless become so commonplace that I’ve given up taking offence on behalf of my adopted home borough.
No, what really stuck in the craw was the later “clarification” by one of Smith’s aides, which included the claim that Smith had recently bought a kebab—on her own!—on the streets of Peckham, another deprived London borough. Leaving aside the cringeworthy desperation of the comment—as well as the fact that the home secretary seems to be undermining her own government’s anti-obesity strategy—why has no one alerted the home secretary to the fact that Hackney’s kebabs are the finest in the capital, if not the country? The area’s large Turkish population has led to the rise of a number of superb kebab restaurants on and around Kingsland Road and Green Lanes, in any one of which the koftes or iskenders will knock a Peckham doner into a cocked hat. If only Ms Smith were brave enough to take to the mean streets of Hackney on her own, she might discover this for herself.
UPDATE 1: Dave Hill wonders if the Sunday Times has done Hackney a further disservice by misreporting crime figures
UPDATE 2: Join the Facebook group!