Diane Abbott has had to apologise for drinking a Marks and Spencer tinned mojito on a London Overground train. I didn’t know it was a crime. It is, though. So she said sorry for breaking Transport for London regulations on the consumption of alcohol. Not exactly an Oliver Reed moment, but there we are.
As a potential future home secretary, she has to be bound by a higher ethical code than the rest of us, after all. As a potential future Labour cabinet minister who has the temerity to be a woman of colour, she is also bound to be trashed for even the most trivial of shortcomings. If she doesn’t immediately submit to a ritual Maundy-style act of penitence towards the media, then she will be harassed and pursued until she does.
It is interesting that someone took the trouble to take her picture, without her permission or that of TfL and, presumably, saw fit to have it placed in the public domain, thus invading her privacy. Strictly, a train carriage is not a public place in the way the street is.
Obviously, Abbott was pilloried for the transgression in the usual places. The Sun devoted a whole page to this “story”. I’m only surprised they didn’t splash on it. More even than Jeremy Corbyn, our Tory press allied to those strange gammonite people you can find on social media and some online comments sections really, really hate her. You wonder why, and why she gets such unusually hostile, disrespectful treatment everywhere from her Twitter account to BBC Question Time.
Say for example it was Nigel Farage swigging a bottle of Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire ale on the way back from his arduous 280-mile march to London. The captions would be “Hero Nige Enjoys Pint of English Ale that Europe Tried to Ban” (it didn’t). He could probably get pissed and light up a Rothmans on the escalator at Kings Cross station and still be praised by Richard Littlejohn for striking a blow against the “’elf ’n’ safety” Brussels bully boys (who’d in reality just prefer not to have another fire there and don’t have jurisdiction anyhow).
The resulting Brexit Party pint and fag protest would also be presented as another Farage body blow against the liberal elite MPs and those toff/foreign doctors who actually want to stop us getting lung cancer and then having to have the NHS treat at it the expense of everyone else. Selfish smug establishment bastards, enough is enough, I want my country back, etc, etc.
The Abbott haters would presumably like to make Boris Johnson prime minister, and they’d be happy to for him to have as many mojitos as he likes, even chairing a Cobra meeting about bombing Syria while off his face. After all, Churchill got through the war on copious amounts of Scotch and brandy. The Rees-Moggs could open a champagne bar on the Piccadilly line. Michael Gove and Sarah Vine could host soirees in the last carriage on the District line. But Diane Abbott will never, ever be allowed a crafty M&S mojito on the way back to Hackney.
Ask yourself a few simple questions: does Abbott’s penchant for sweet rum-based cocktails affect her ability to do her job? Had she been home secretary, and not Theresa May, would we have had the shame of the Windrush scandal? Will a mojito stop her being a formidably reforming home secretary? (She can sip one in the back of the ministerial Jaguar by then.) Or is that ill-starred tipple just another convenient weapon to beat her up with?
I have to admit that in all my years of hell-raising I’ve not drunk a mojito out of a can, and it seems a bit incongruous to do so on a London Overground train. The Overground, for those unfamiliar with it by the way, is a cross between a proper underground London Underground Tube line, and an overground railway train. I like to think of it as the Wimbledon line – an underground-overground Wombling free, but that nickname has yet to catch on. Actually, it doesn’t go to Wimbledon. Maybe we could call it the Mojito line?
Anyway it’s not a glamorous vibe, the London Overground, stretching as it does in its imperial vastness from East Croydon to Watford Junction. The mojito should really be enjoyed on some shabby genteel hotel veranda in Havana with Ernest Hemingway-type gangsters in zoot suits and stuffed swordfishes on the wall. Or at least in that nice cosy Art Deco cocktail bar they’ve refurbished at Claridges. And out of a proper rum highball glass, too – not out of a can, clattering through Neasden Junction, surrounded by people armed with smartphones and nothing better to do than to surreptitiously photograph you. That’s just asking for trouble.