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Brick Lane in the morning

8 July 2005

I never realised how busy Brick Lane always is until it wasn’t. I was sorely aware this morning on my way to openDemocracy’s office that I had no tikka touts, courier bicycles or even asymmetrical haircuts to bustle past. I guess all London is still slowly returning from the shadows, but something about a quiet Brick Lane was particularly potent.

Brick Lane has long been a first generation immigrant community; from Huguenots to Irish, Jews to the current Bangladeshi community. Traces from all these groups are visible all around in architecture, shops and cafes, but something’s changed recently. Nothing tangible, but the air somehow hardened when a van of riot police drove up Hanbury Street, in anticipation of violence, on 5 May.

Bethnal Green and Bow, long a safe Labour seat, was taken by George Galloway (of the Respect coalition) in the general elections amid a venomous and divisive campaign. Galloway rode victoriously into Tower Hamlets on a single issue – the Iraq war, his choice of a predominantly Muslim ward coolly calculated.

Not that this was an inherently bad tactic. Of course the anti-war movement felt frustrated and politically marginalised, but there’s an acute difference between uniting people around a particular cause and dividing them over it. Galloway’s victory speech was the antithesis of pragmatic reconciliation and nobility, and he’s done little but condemn the “murdering” Messrs Blair and Bush since.

Galloway hasn’t offered any leadership or consolations for the families of the dead and wounded at Aldgate station, in his constituency, but has rather inflamed the situation with his accusations that Blair brought this to London, that somehow terrorism is a justified reaction to war.

When my dear precious city is attacked like this, when it is physically shaken, I want my MP to be local, just for a while.

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