Lo’s Noodle Factory supplies almost all the Chinatown restaurants, as well as the Hakkasan group; no one was cutting noodles when I went there on a Friday afternoon. ‘It’s not just Chinatown. It’s anywhere where there are Chinese people. France, Italy – it doesn’t matter; it’s the whole world,’ said the man handing me my order of char siu bao, red bean buns and cheung fun. Lo’s only just avoided closing last November, when Shaftesbury plc (which owns most of Chinatown) tried to turn it into an electrical substation. The whole area was already under pressure from skyrocketing rents and immigration enforcement raids. The novel coronavirus has further stymied Chinatown’s micro-economy.
The last 16 people on trial for allegedly masterminding the 2013 Gezi Park protests were acquitted by an Istanbul court on Tuesday. On Monday, 230 Gezi activists in the small Thracian city of Kırklareli had already seen their charges quashed. It had seemed too much to hope for a similar decision in Istanbul. Outside the hearing, Republican Party (CHP) leaders waited, apparently ready to pronounce another day in the death of Turkish democracy. When the verdict came, Atatürk’s party seemed to find itself, once again, wrong-footed by the AKP. At least this time the surprise was a pleasant one. Within hours of his release, however, one of the 16, the businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, was arrested on a new warrant, accused of involvement in the coup attempt of July 2016. Others had old charges against them reinstated.
The government’s focus, at least officially, is almost entirely economic. Migrants are welcome insofar as they benefit ‘us’. These human beings, some of whom are already sitting as ‘stock’ in our national store cupboard like tins of tuna for a rainy day, are there to boost production at UK plc. The new policy contains some pro forma references to the ills of exploitation, but imposes vulnerabilities on a whole new group of people who are currently able to walk away from a boss who skims their wages, extracts unpaid overtime, touches them up or worse. The message: you are here to do a job, a particular kind of job in a particular industry, and if you lose it then home you go; even if home, for all emotional and practical purposes, is here. Faced with such options, many will do what it takes to stay, and their managers will know that they will.
The officer at the US embassy informed me that my authorisation to travel had been revoked because the ‘algorithm’ had identified a security threat. He said he did not know what had triggered the algorithm but suggested that it could be something I was involved in, people I am or was in contact with, places to which I had travelled (had I recently been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia or met their nationals?), hotels at which I stayed, or a certain pattern of relations among these things. I was asked to supply the embassy with additional information, including 15 years of travel history, in particular where I had gone and who had paid for it. The officer said that Homeland Security investigators could assess my case more promptly if I supplied the names of anyone in my network whom I believed might have triggered the algorithm. I declined to provide this information.
Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, foreign embassies are ‘inviolable’: the host country’s officials have a ‘special duty’ to protect them and can’t enter without permission. When the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC was besieged last summer, the National Lawyers Guild said that the US government had flouted the convention by condoning the attacks and protecting those who were carrying them out.
The man who spoke to me on the phone from Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire asked me not to use his name. ‘At 10.30,’ he said, ‘they put us on a bus and took us to a private airfield in Doncaster although they were fighting for our case outside. I see police. I see dogs. It was like hell. We were watching other detainees going inside the plane. We were shaking, thinking any moment it’s going to be us.’
Cummings’s triumph over Javid illuminates the government’s likely trajectory. Burke Trend – a career civil servant in the Treasury before he became cabinet secretary in 1963 – once remarked that whatever the prevailing economic theory, the general ethos of the Treasury was fixed: ‘Spending money, like eating people, is wrong.’ This entrenched conservatism has occasionally been praised – Keynes thought it a bulwark against madcap governmental wickedness – but has more often frustrated politicians of both left and right intent on reshaping the economy. Bringing its political wing under his influence suggests Cummings is eager to break the Treasury’s taboo, and serious about realising the Conservatives’ so far vague spending pledges, to firm up their potentially volatile electoral coalition. If he is serious about Whitehall reform, he also underestimates its complexity and intractability. The Treasury’s inertia is not caused by a few indolent spads at the top, easily replaced.