Comment | Our miserable capital isn't the answer
I think it is fairly common knowledge that the north is better than the south. Oh, hark at the swathe of southern flavoured indignation that ripples mildly around the room! Yeah, at producing professional dossers, the soused gentleman draped in the Arsenal flag bellows! Or teenage pregnancies, proffers the aristocratic half man, half beagle in the regal pyjamas and top hat four rows back! All invaluable contributions from remarkably astute hecklers, I must concede! But alas, I had something different in mind: in terms of quality of living, pace of life, the friendliness of locals and the price of key commodities, the north ruins the south with consummate ease. London is a grasping, fattened parasite, clinging miserably onto the back of the United Kingdom. Since the Conservative governments of the eighties elected to unfetter the City of London from trivial things like regulation, London has become engorged on the carcasses of former industrial powerhouses of the north. It has ceaselessly pilfered the best and the brightest from the rest of the country in greedy gulps, with false promises of cheap gym membership and zero tolerance on socialism luring many an ambitious soul and converting many once proud northern cities into amusing synonyms for desolation in the process. The great cultural hubs of Manchester and Liverpool will, I fear, be forever concerned with their pathetic rivalries no one else cares about. They are too busy fighting amongst themselves, trying desperately to prove who’s more authentic, while London sits back with a joint and a newspaper, smirking at the stupidity that unfolds before them. Meanwhile, the oleaginous Home Counties, draped in the logo of the House of Commons, curl up at the foot of London; radiating incomprehensible levels of smugness that can only be paralleled by the last appearance of Thom Yorke on the front of the NME.
One of my proudest achievements is, by far, managing to escape the most insular, unfriendly and expensive city you will ever have the misfortune of getting drawn into eventually. When you hear people talking about how unfriendly southerners are, or how cold Londoners are in particular, they’re spot on: the snarling mass of limbs, spittle and iPads that greets you as you try to get on the tube in the morning makes the most deranged feeding frenzy on an Attenborough documentary look entirely civil; the stench of weariness that drenches the city day after day as people labour against the clock mingles liberally with the pollution that laces the rim of every pint glass and the lining of every lung. It is a garish stage upon which the most appalling aspects of human nature are nurtured and exalted, in savage rituals of Darwinian economic competitiveness. Whether it is from the crushingly grey routines or the arrogance earned from surviving in the inferno where the traumas of the 2007-08 credit crunch unfolded, I’m not sure: but Londoners do not care about the rest of the country. It is a hive of solipsism and excess, where atoms blitz past each other in avaricious pursuit of lucrative targets that eliminate the concept of the word ‘enough’. Now, something tells me, and I’m not quite sure what, but I don’t think it is advisable to go back there again after this piece. I can also kiss that job as a columnist at the Evening Standard that I’ve never wanted goodbye. Oh well.
In Evan Davis’s recent fanatically pro-London ‘Mind the Gap: London vs. the Rest’, Davis triumphantly reaffirmed the egregious hegemony London enjoys. While only devoting small sections of his two part show to voices that were not in thrall to London, Davis unhesitatingly presented London’s ascent as a necessarily pyrrhic triumph that the rest of the country should rejoice in. The City of London has held the gaze of Westminster for too long, with its swaggering financial might moulding the crucial economic policies of all the main parties for decades; making a mockery of politicians’ claims that we are living in a ‘democracy’. Their attitude, alongside Davis’s, is unfortunately representative of the current political class and media that invests so much hope in the capital, at the expense of others. It has been mentioned repeatedly on news channels and political talk shows that property markets in London and the south east are booming, while the rest of the country is left trailing far behind. During the floods that blighted the country at the start of the year, it was suggested by some that if the floods had hit safe Conservative seats closer to London, the Coalition’s response would’ve been far more rapid. The vastly overrated Olympics, a glorified and hyper commercialised sports’ day which boasts an entirely non-existent legacy, was yet another event the north failed to get. Admittedly, thousands travelled from across the country to see the events in London: but the fact that the games were known as the London 2012 Olympics accentuated disconnect between those who live in the capital and everybody else, who saw it as just another prestigious occasion awarded to the capital. All these complaints are entirely justified: the rest of the country is seen by the political class of today as economically expendable: London isn’t. London must be cosseted. London crows, purrs and dominates, exuding a sensual aura of opportunity which attracts the attention of businessmen who are met with little resistance in terms of regulation when they want to establish themselves in London.
I feel completely dismayed when I hear people talk of how desperate they are to come and settle in the Republic of Londinium. Tourists perennially romanticise their brief stay in the capital. The few days spent here will be the happiest days of many a life no doubt, and outsiders will fall in love with the place. However, this mind-set is allowed the freedom to exist because tourists of course have no serious responsibilities while they are here on their holidays. They are not trying desperately to find a property, nor look for work. The famous attractions the capital has to offer can only be taken advantage of if you can afford the entry fees, never mind getting to them through London’s costly public transport, and the least well off are effectively barred from enjoying the array of landmarks. It is well known that property prices in London are obscene: even if you managed to secure a place, living here for a few years would no doubt corrode any sense of romance one might’ve had for the city, replacing it instead with the Londoner’s standard diet of cancerous stress and malignant debt.
Neo-liberal adherents enjoy gloating about how London has led the laughable excuse for a recovery, but they, and the loathsome Boris Johnson mouthpiece The Evening Standard, fail to admit that the recovery has conclusively not benefitted the poorest in the capital. Trust for London, a charitable organisation that seeks to reduce inequality in London by as much as possible, issued a report in October 2013 which contained shocking statistics showing income inequality is wider in London than in any other region. Sixteen percent of the lowest earners languish in the poorest tenth nationally, while seventeen percent of the top earners strut amongst the highest ten. Secondly, fifty seven percent of adults and children living in poverty are in working families, which banishes the venomous myth of the apathetic leech content to sit around and feast upon the hard work of others. Finally, a quarter of all households in London required housing benefits to meet their housing costs, in comparison to a fifth of households in the rest of the country. These are just a handful of statistics picked out from the morbid catalogue of offences Trust for London brilliantly highlighted, showing not only how hard working people who refuse to fulfil Boris Johnson’s Gordon Gekko mantra are marginalised, but how the feeble stirrings in the economy merely line the bulging wallets of an already wealthy few. The richest, most well connected people in London are harvesting the benefits of the nascent tremors of a long comatose economy, which seems to be waking up again with the assistance of all the debt based ingredients that brought about the collapse of global capitalism only a short time ago.
When my mangled body is found shortly after this article is published, I imagine the list of potential murder suspects will be both high and diverse. I have no doubt that Londoners will consolidate all their hatred and angst into one easily manageable, festering ball and hurl it in my direction, while northerners will no doubt be filled with hatred at the idea that I think they privately enjoy being second best, as it suits their ‘us against the world’ and ‘nobody likes us’ mentality. But in all seriousness, what we need is a redistribution of power, from south to north, in order to restore balance. How do you achieve this? There are several ways I believe: the increased presence of those from a working class, northern background in Parliament, or those who are quite simply not loyal to the demonic financial forces that spew forth from the City of London: investment in the cultural projects specific to each city; and a revision of economic policy that abandons the tertiary sector and looks to rebuild a nation on a socialist economy built on social justice, workers’ rights and the manufacturing of goods.
Finally, it would be wise to remember that Hull is going to be our City of Culture for 2017. I can only assume it was the sole entrant in that contest, but nevertheless, Hull has demonstrated, much like Liverpool did a few years ago, that there is life outside of London. If you thought this was an unashamed character assassination of our glorious capital, then you were right. London is not the answer to your dreams and ambitions.
Image: Visit London