The New Statesman’s special correspondent reviews every branch of Greggs he’s ever been to

A Greggs employee holding a pasty. Image: Getty.

Westminster Underground now has a Greggs, so to the mark the occasion I have ranked every Greggs I have been to.

Greggs, Globe Town

I don’t know if this branch in Bethnal Green is the first I ever went to, but it is certainly the first I remember: a rare forage for the chain into a part of the world that was at the time still almost entirely dominated by Percy Ingle, a small chain of bakeries that covered the entirety of the known world when I was growing up (that is, the stretch of north-east London running from Bow to Hackney).

I have a particular affection for this Greggs because in the last two years of secondary school, we were given two freedoms. The first was that we no longer had to wear blazers, an opportunity I declined; the second was that we were able to leave school during our lunch hours, an opportunity I joyfully accepted.
Greggs was one of the nearest and the nicest of the eating opportunities – it must have been a minute’s walk at most from secondary school. I grew up in the kind of household where my intake of E numbers and sugars were closely regulated – even now the word “Carob” makes me feel uneasy and disgusted – so the taste of stripy Greggs donuts will always be the taste of freedom to me.

Rating: 9.5/10

Greggs, Newcastle (various)

When I was in my early teens, my mum went to Durham University to study theology. I regarded Durham a small and essentially dull town masquerading as a city, and Newcastle, a real city which was only a short train ride away, was a vital pressure valve.

At the time, I saw a trip to the Greggs opposite Newcastle train station as a taste of London. It took me another 15 years to understand why this sentiment was so funny to everyone else.

Now, whenever I visit Newcastle – food on British trains being surprisingly and uniformly awful - that Greggs is the first opportunity to eat anything good since leaving Kings Cross. To me, the taste of a Greggs sausage roll will always be one of relief.

Rating: 9.8/10

Greggs, Templar Square

One of the exciting things about going to university was that I could go to McDonalds whenever I liked and no-one could say shit about it. But the sad thing about going to university is that the centre of Oxford had no Greggs.

The Templar Square shopping mall in Blackbird Leys did, though, and as it happened my mother moved there for work shortly after I got into university. This meant that, whenever I felt overwhelmed or tired, I would hop on the bus to the Leys to hide from the world. To me, the taste of a Greggs Yum-Yum will always be one of comfort.

Rating: 9.7/10 

Greggs, Ludgate Hill

I don’t often work from the New Statesman office but when I do, I use this Greggs. When I am at the New Statesman office, it is either for a meeting, for a podcast, or because the MPs are away for the summer holidays, which encourages me to experiment with my Greggs order. So the taste of the Greggs chicken goujons will always be one of listlessness.

Rating: 9/10 

Greggs Strutton Ground

The area immediately around Westminster already has two Greggs: this one is better from a culinary perspective. As someone who used to work in a coffee shop where I rarely, if ever, cleaned out the machine, I know how much of a difference that makes – and the coffee here has the taste of somewhere that keeps their equipment in great shape.

I am not sure if it is an upside or a downside that you will rarely, if ever, meet someone work-related from this Greggs. But it means that the taste of a Greggs bread pudding will always be one of isolation.

Rating: 9.3/10

Greggs Victoria Street

This Greggs is comically close to the Strutton Ground one – perhaps a minute away – on the other side of Victoria Street, but it was a lot closer to the old Labour HQ, so you could get good intel about Labour under Miliband here. The taste of a Greggs steak bake will always be one of indiscretion. 

Rating: 9.5/10

Greggs, Brazennose Street, Manchester

It took me a long time to discover that Greggs originates from outside London, but it shouldn’t have. It’s a matter of fact that, on average, Greggs are better in the North (and, bizarrely, in Wales) than they are outside of it.

Why? The answer is “butter”: the merest hint of butter on a bacon roll, which elevates an already great breakfast to the heights.

Conference season is always an odd time for political journalists, and I at least am always struck down by immense sadness at one of them, usually the Conservative one. That’s not because of the people who attend or the policies they announce there, although that doesn’t help, but because, by that point, I have been away from home for the best part of a month: my face feels fixed in a polite smile, and I miss London and everyone I care about.  

Anyway, last year, I would comfort myself with a bacon roll at the Greggs by the conference centre each morning. And one day, one of the women who worked there asked if I was alright, which made me feel a lot better. So the taste of a Greggs bacon roll with butter will always be one of comfort. 

Rating: 9.9/10 

Greggs, Birmingham Grand Central

“Is the Midlands in the North or not”, the greatest debate in the history of forums, locked by a moderator after 12,239 pages of heated debate, finally settled by this Greggs. There was no butter on my bacon roll at Conservative Party conference in 2016, ergo, Birmingham is not in the North. The taste of a Greggs unbuttered bacon roll will always be one of certainty.

Rating: 9.6/10 

Greggs Swansea

During the general election, I visited the Welsh marginal seat of Gower, the most vulnerable Conservative seat, and I went over my notes over a chicken tikka baguette in the Greggs nearest the train station. It was then that I started to realize that Jeremy Corbyn’s poll surge wasn’t just a polling error but a real phenomenon – and that the dementia tax had done Theresa May real damage. So the taste of a chicken tikka baguette will always be one of epiphany.

Rating: 9.2/10 

Greggs Finsbury Park

There is a light that never goes out, and it is this Greggs. (Actually, they close at five o’clock but still.)

I write my free morning briefing from home, and the prospect of Greggs’ excellent breakfast deal – just £3 for a bacon baguette and a coffee – keeps me going without food as I read the morning’s papers from around the world. This Greggs has given me a lot: the reusable coffee cup I bought from here, and also an increased risk of heart disease. It is one of my favourite places in the whole world.

The one problem is that the people who work here are too friendly, to the point that, when I took a day off. they noticed I hadn’t come in for my daily baguette, and asked where I’d been the next day. So the taste of a Greggs bacon baguette will forever be one of shame. Delicious shame.  

Rating: 10/10

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at our parent title, the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 

CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.