Remember when Shoreditch was cheap, slightly grubby, cheek by jowl with the City, a haven for artists? And then it attracted budding businesses cradling mugs of tea in greasy spoons while plotting their future?
In time it has become Mac airs and chai lattes and the business hub thrives, fuelled by the density of talent, enthusiasm and sweaty social hotspots. One live, writhing network which no-one could have planned.
Then along comes David Cameron, thrilled by what he sees. He’s on a political mission to take jobs out of the public sector to cut Government spending – he alights on Shoreditch. He needs to promote business and create jobs in the private sector and in Shoreditch that’s sexy, modern and thrusting.
A sigh of despair through Whitehall
Prime Ministerial interest in a subject leads to a general sigh of despair though Whitehall. Secretaries of State (the elected politicians) worry about how this enthusiasm for a tiny part of their empire will divert their time.
They want to be helpful (not to be is a bad career move when your promotion is entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister) but have a myriad of other issues which they’re trying to launch or keep a lid on.
The civil servants sigh because they’ve devoted at least a few years on the subject (specialist roles are only just emerging in the civil service). And a politician getting the wrong end of the stick could sweep away their hard work or at least be a big diversion.
And so with Shoreditch. The Prime Minister calls it Tech City, launches a body to promote it. On this issue he does have a key No10 insider in Rohan Silva who speaks the language of the tech entrepreneur rather than Whitehall. So he acts as a conduit for the concerns over immigration, visas, funding, mentoring, skills training and all the issues that tech businesses also raise with me.
Sustained interest in tech city
Let’s not be too quick to knock Prime Ministerial interest. It does mean that doors open across Whitehall. An edict or request from No.10 (“the Prime Minister needs a briefing…”) sends Government departments into a frenzy of activity.
This usually means that the department works out what it wants and presents options to the PM to try and engineer this outcome.
In the case of tech city the PM’s interest has at least been sustained. Visits by the occupants of 10 and 11 Downing Street and their advisors are frequent.
Shoreditch’s poor broadband
As the local MP I’m often asked, “Will you be at the next No10 breakfast?” I’m a backbench Labour MP. There’s more chance of hell freezing over than me being invited to a Government policy event. I occasionally sneak in to a local event when I get a tip off from a friendly business.
But mostly I speak, I write, I question ministers and the Prime Minister. But when I am lucky enough to be drawn out of the sorting hat for a question to the Prime Minister (questions are still mostly allocated by random ballot) it’s the day after the News of the World phone hacking verdicts.
So I’m torn between raising the national embarrassment of Shoreditch’s poor broadband and the national embarrassment of the PM having employed a convicted criminal. One might embarrass the PM into action to help my constituents and local businesses, the other might be another drip towards the tsunami I’d like to see to sweep my party into power.
And if my party is in power next year?
Well I’ll still be banging on about broadband. I’d hope to get a serious hearing but the Whitehall machine will still sigh. I’m already working on all options. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna will be visiting Shoreditch soon to see for himself the magic that the PM likes to call tech city.