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ENTRE NOUS - RODNEY BROOKE REVEALS THE STORIES BEHIND THE HEADLINES

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Attracting the right crowd ...
Attracting the right crowd

Modern art usually receives a bad press. Yet there are queues to see the bricks and elephant dung at the Tate Modern. The Bankside gallery attracts more visitors than the Dome. Of course, unlike the Dome it's free, thanks to the munificence of culture minister Chris Smith.

But don't knock the Tate Modern. It contributes an annual£90m to London's economy. Supported throughout by the leader and chief executive of Southwark LBC, it is committed to the involvement of residents.

The gallery is certainly meeting its regeneration targets. The locality is moving upmarket. Artists' studios are being taken over by the new bourgeoisie. Developers are converting warehouses into luxury flats and smart restaurants are opening. Though some Tate jobs have gone to locals, the project seems to do more for gentrification than social inclusion. Soon even taxi drivers might be prepared to cross the river.

Why did Labour councillors support the development? Why encourage voting yuppies? After all, Labour control of Southwark hangs on the mayor's casting vote. The answer is in new politics. The Bermondsey working class vote Liberal Democrat. Labour support comes from the intellectuals in Dulwich. How conventional wisdom on voting patterns has changed.

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The prize for political good behaviour must surely go to London mayor Ken Livingstone. Any trace of loony leftism seems to have been expunged from his psyche.

He has conciliated the City of London and the boroughs. Labour and Liberal Democrat assembly members are in his administration. Criticism of the government is 'comradely advice'. Mr Livingstone knows his political career is dead unless he wins the next mayoral election. His success in 2004 will depend on having been readmitted to the Labour Party by then. Expect continued good behaviour.

There are two reefs in the way of plain sailing towards this goal. The first is the outcome of the inquiry into the private finance initiative on the Tube. The Industrial Society chief executive and former editor of The Observer Will Hutton is in charge. An advocate of economics very different to chancellor Gordon Brown's, Mr Hutton will not be seen by the government as a neutral figure. His inquiry is not likely to support the government's case. What will happen in the resulting stand-off?

The second battleground will be congestion charging. St Augustine prayed: 'Make me chaste but not yet.' Labour has a similar attitude to congestion charging. The Labour Party wants to wait until an electronic system is introduced. That will be years away. But a paper-based system will require an army of enforcers.

So all may not be plain sailing. But remember Labour and Conservative members of the assembly must vote together to defeat the mayor's policy proposals and budget. Politically such an alliance looks less attractive than letting Ken have his will.

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Britain follows the US lead. The government copies American nostrums. One of them is the cult of the mayor. In Chicago, hoardings from the airport to downtown proclaim the glory of mayor Richard M Daley. When I stayed there last week, even my morning Chicago Tribune came with his compliments.

What will be the next idea to cross the Atlantic? Front-line consumer protection could be one. Every product alarms. The salted nut packet warns: 'The contents may emanate from a factory which handles nuts.' After McDonalds was sued over a burnt mouth the coffee mugs carry the message: 'Warning - this beverage may be hot.'

Another development could be equalities. There are many fat people in the States. Fat power is a big issue. San Francisco has enacted legislation making it an offence to discriminate against them. Fat people now have the right to file civil lawsuits against people who make unkind remarks about them.

Could we see here a Commission for Fat Equality or an Equal Fatness Commission?

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The National Lottery has become part of life. Anyone thinking about a new project calls the Lottery first.

By now you would have thought distribution of the loot would be streamlined. But costs continue to spiral. Surely some economies are possible?

There are now 15 distributor bodies. Charities, sports and the arts are decentralised to regions. Heritage is thinking about regionalisation. The New Opportunities Fund is being pushed down the regional route.

All have separate offices and administrations. All have an emphasis on social exclusion. All are fishing in the same pond. A complex spider's web of criteria has been created. Small organisations lose out. Large organisations hire experts to prepare their bids.

How about some joined-up government? Why not put all the distributing bodies in the same offices, prescribe a common application form and leave the Lottery boffins to sort out the most appropriate fund? It would help claimants, save money and end the lottery of the Lottery.

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What is the oldest surviving function of councils? It must be markets. More than 50 markets date from before 1086.

It was the first regulated monopoly business. Today no new market can be established within six and two-thirds miles from an existing market. Why six and two-thirds miles? In the Middle Ages the daily journey on foot was held to be 20 miles. Six and two-thirds miles was a third. The mediaeval peasant had one-third of the day to walk to the market with his produce, one-third to sell it and one-third to go home.

Two hundred years ago the Improvement Commissioners started building market halls in the interests of hygiene. Councils continued the work. The results survive in the architectural triumphs of Leeds, Halifax, Bolton, Derby and Barnstaple. Interestingly the cities that kept their markets, like Leeds, seem to thrive. Those like Bradford that pulled down the old market halls are in decline.

Now the glories of the market hall are celebrated by Americans. Yale University Press has published The British Market Hall by James Schmiechen and Kenneth Carls. How sad the celebration comes 30 years too late for the towns that destroyed theirs.

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