The man on the Clapham omnibus, if he hasn’t heard of Refounding Labour, conference stitch-ups or the political culture in a certain London borough, might observe that the Labour party show themselves off as a pretty friendly bunch.
In recent years, our ‘friendships’ have filled volumes. Labour Friends of Israel, and Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, are perhaps the two best known examples. But recently we’ve had the Forces, Turkey, China, and the list continues.
Until you get to what I would say has been one of the greatest small-term successes of Labour party socialising of late: Labour Friends of Curry. I’ve been an active member since attending my first ‘meeting’ in January 2011, and was once described by a fellow member as ‘Cobra officer’.
But the powering force behind the Friends has undoubtedly been Liz McShane of Tottenham CLP and a fellow comrade of the Labour Party Irish Society. Much of the hard work has been done on Twitter and Facebook, where the friendship continues between ‘meetings’.
The group’s name is tongue-in-cheek, and we’re very aware we can’t change the world by passing the dopiaza or ordering another naan bread. We’re not proposing to replace GCs with raita comparison sessions, or forget that we need to win back the five million lost votes before the next election.
We’re also conscious of the fact that food can be a delicate subject for many. You don’t win friends with salad, after all, as Lisa Simpson is forcefully told. But the Friends have proved that curry is a different matter. (Incidentally, I should add here that that’s not an attempt to deter vegetarians. I started off eating meat at the ‘meetings’, and have since decided it’s not for me, and had just as much fun.)
It’s also appropriate because it’s fairly affordable, something that can’t always be said about Labour party fundraisers in my old London constituency. I see the need, of course, to keep the coffers healthy, but it often goes unsaid that we exclude a large proportion of our members and supporters in this way.
Even fairly cheap curry is not an option for everyone, and as far as constituency events are concerned, I’d like to see a more equitable system for paying in place, much like how we balance party membership fees.
The group which has met more or less monthly in London for coming on two years now has been a brilliant forum for left-minded discussion and comradely fun. The events are never the same – sometimes it’s ten people and often it’s twice that. The guests vary.
The locations vary too. The first I attended was at the India Club on the Strand, which has since become one of my favourite haunts in London (it’s not as luxury as it sounds, but that’s how some of us like it.)
Brick Lane is an obvious choice and we’ve tried several of the Bengali eateries in that neck of the woods. This was the location of one of the many reunions with activists I’ve met fleetingly on the campaign trail but only got to know properly over the pilau rice.
Tonight it’s the Angel Curry Centre on Chapel Market, another regular for the Friends and a favourite of Islington Labour. Bring your own booze, like many of our venues, and great food for great value.
It’s not Granita – but surely that’s a good thing! But if you’re free this evening, Labour and curry-minded in London, come down and you won’t regret it. I knew one person in the room on that fateful night in January 2011, but the following month I knew at least eight. If you don’t know anyone at all, you certainly won’t go away in the same state.
If you’re outside of London, that needn’t be a reason for defeat – unofficial branches have sprung up, apparently, in Manchester and elsewhere. The next task for me: the East of England region.
Labour Friends of Curry are meeting tonight (Thursday 26th July) at 6pm at the Jazz Bar on the corner of Chapel Market and Liverpool Road, before going on to the Angel Curry Centre, 5 Chapel Market, London N1 9EZ from 7pm. Join the Facebook group here for future updates.