Coffee bean counting and a kind word for Corbyn…

COFFEE or Corbyn? Oh, let’s go for the pair of them. A skim of this morning’s headlines offers two stories connected only by virtue of the coffee-loving, politics-watching brain of this writer.

According to the Sun newspaper, there are now 20 times more coffee shops in our high streets than there were 18 years ago. As for the drink they serve, 70 million cups of coffee are drunk each day in the UK.

The Sun story is short on detail – semi-skimmed in its skimpiness – but does include the fact that Costa Coffee is reported to be spending £40 million on a new roasting plant to meet demand. And there is a quote from Starbucks saying that customers are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes, wanting to know where the coffee has been sourced.

I don’t drink coffee from those two corporate establishments, preferring to find a local coffee shop. York is awash with coffee shops, from cosy to corporate: for a city that is prone to flooding, it seems to have been inundated with caffeine in recent years.

This is mostly a good thing, or it is when I am having a coffee in my favourite locations, the Attic in King’s Square or the Fossgate Social a street away. Other good local coffee shops are available.

Such lovely places will be only partly responsible for turning a nation of tea drinkers into caffeine-heads twitching for the next cappuccino fix. The big boys will be the main reason for the rise of coffee, with their coffee-spurting shops everywhere. It is now common to see people walking down the street nuzzling a mini-bucket of coffee, often from Costa (sorry, don’t like their coffee).

I grew up drinking only tea more or less. Everybody did back then. But now I am multi-talented and can turn my swallowing skills to both beverages.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn looks like a tea man to me, but that is only a guess. His old-fashioned nature suggests a man who would drink tea, perhaps having once spotted Tony Benn swimming in a tannic sea of teabag tea.

In this morning’s Guardian, Corbyn receives a surprising endorsement from Steve Hilton, the so-called blue skies thinker who turned David Cameron green for a short while. Hilton looks more lifestyle guru than political advisor, an image fostered by his reported habit of having walked barefoot round Downing Street.

Hilton believes Corbyn has been bullied by the Westminster establishment because he has an unconventional approach to politics. In support of this thesis, he sites that truly awful occasion in February when Cameron took Corbyn to task for not properly fastening a tie, saying: “I know what my mother would say. I think she’d look across the dispatch box and she’d say: put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”

In that moment you felt as if the real David Cameron had flashed through the confected milky froth of the caffeine-free Cameron.

To my mind, the exchange left the prime minister looking snooty and shoddy. His former adviser would seem to agree. Now a resident of California, Hilton is in London to promote the UK publication of his book, More Human.

He tells this morning’s Guardian: “What I really hated about the reaction to Corbyn at the very beginning was this immediate, … very bullying ganging-up by the political establishment to say: this guy is not doing it the way we are used to doing it; he’s not wearing a tie; he’s not reshuffling his cabinet in the way we’re used to doing it.” He added: “I thought it was incredibly unattractive.”

Hilton adds that he warmed to Corbyn’s unpolished style and his appeal to a “kinder, gentler politics”. It’s not all good news for the Labour leader, though, as Hilton worries he may not be up to the tough management job of running the opposition.

He also points out that Corbyn’s popularity among his supporters reflects the same anti-establishment forces that have put Donald Trump barely one step away from the presidency in the US.

I admire much of what Corbyn says, but still worry that his approach to politics is unlikely to win over enough voters, especially in the Labour-sceptic south.

But you never know. One day we were all drinking tea; and the next we were swilling ourselves in coffee. Perhaps tastes can change in politics, too.

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