March 14, 2017
Coming from the North of England then London has retained, for my lifetime, an aura that will always be difficult to shift. After all it is the home of some things central to every Englishman’s life – Wembley Cup Finals, where the Queen lives, Houses of Parliament and not least where all the big bands will play a gig.
I lived there briefly for a year when I was 18 years old and then lived close, for 6 years, in Essex during the 1980’s. However the place then never seemed such a very foreign country.
I feel when I step out of car after a sojourn down the M1 or alight at Kings Cross that I am like the shop floor worker who suddenly finds himself in the director’s office: impressed with the furniture, his wardrobe and ambition but uneasy about who is paying for all this, that the director didn’t pay his dues to get to this position and the fact this chap is calling all the shots as regards my life.
On my recent pilgrimages to the epicentre of the UK I was wandering around a Co-op, in Crouch End, when I saw an aisle identifying ‘International’ foods. Momentarily I half expected to find foreign foods such as Yorkshire Pudding Mix, Worcestershire Sauce, Pontefract Cakes, Ginger Nuts and Marmite. After all London is the sixth largest French town with an estimated 350,000 living there. Google suggests that from the 2011 Census that over 36% of the London population was born abroad. The very look of many streets in terms of shops is something that has a middle eastern bazaar feel to it rather than anything like a provincial British town.
London has changed as regards its population in such a significant way that it wouldn’t be a stretch to worry that, in it’s position as the centre of our country that, it doesn’t think like the rest of the England and Wales. More to the point then whilst I have often visited London and the south then how many Londoners had been north of Hendon. A city state?
The way it votes reflects its cosmopolitan or multi cultural composition. The rest of Britain is not multi cultural apart from a few mono cultural centres that are just not British white. The way it viewed Brexit moved it into the same category as Scotland or Northern Ireland. The wealth and public expenditure and the voracious demands for more resource makes it London-centric whilst much of the UK would dearly want to have a fraction of its expenditure on infrastructure, health, education and culture.
As regards the property market then not least at the very top end it has been driven by foreign money seeking a safe haven or a high return. This trickles down to the rest of the housing market eventually pricing, say, two young people in reasonably well paid employment out of the market forever probably. Who’s happy with that?
Our news seems to be a cocktail of London analysis and their angst about the wider world. British journalism, all located in London, seems in these post Trump and Brexit times, to be struggling more profoundly to change and move on. This is a group of often intellectually gifted, connected and mobile people and I wonder if they are holding frantically onto the old entitled order which they could reach, predict and control/influence or are they floating free of prejudice and providing a valuable critique? To haul out a social media strap line then – it doesn’t speak for me. I get told that all is turning to ashes. However, if you live outside of London then many think England might alternatively be starting to come to its senses.
On my recent trip I got up early on a Sunday and went into the centre. Young London was still pulling the duvet up overs its ears as I took advantage of the frequent and efficient public transport to town. I suddenly got a vista of some of the amazing architecture without millions of folk jostling for space on the pavement. I saw the delicious and wide range of food shops and eating establishments. I took in a world class museum. I wondered around stores carrying a range of their goods greater than anywhere else in the UK. I enjoyed the view, the size, the investment and the peace. It will always have the stature and authority but maybe the North and Midlands are rising again. It could be a long war.