London is not above the UK’s problems

The London Eye, a ferris wheel, lit up in blue with yellow lights round the outside (as on the European flag). Traces of other fireworks can be seen around it. The lights are reflected in the River Thames at the bottom.So, last night London had it’s traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks at the South Bank and it featured the London Eye lit up in a way that vaguely resembled the European Flag (which actually pre-dates the EU by about 40 years), blue with lights on all the pods, and the mayor, Sadiq Khan, tweeted:

Tonight’s spectacular #LondonNYE fireworks showed that whatever the outcome of Brexit - #LondonIsOpen - to business, to talent, to ideas, to creativity - and why London really is the greatest city in the world.

To everyone in London and across the globe: #HappyNewYear.

This rather suggests that he thinks that, despite the Brexit vote and its consequences hanging over us in the year to come, London is above it all and will survive the coming chaos intact. It will not, and it is not immune from or free of responsibility for the situation the country finds itself in.

London has a notoriously over-inflated housing market. The Daily Mirror, in that hit job on Kate Osamor last week, claimed that her very average looking terraced council house in Tottenham was worth £750,000. My grandparents’ very similar house in East Dulwich (not far from Peckham) sold for something like £650,000 a few years ago. When I was growing up in the late 1980s, very big houses — mini-mansions — with four or five bedrooms on a very desirable private estate outside Purley, near Croydon, changed hands for half that. We thought the houses being advertised in the local paper, out in leafy East Grinstead and Lingfield, for £80,000 were expensive. As prices go up, so do rents, the result being that people in London cannot get a house unless they are very rich, meaning councils are using rental properties outside London (e.g. Slough), because landlords there are attracted by increased rents from London councils, meaning that people in those places cannot get housed anywhere near home, job and family either (or are remaining homeless). People from London are buying houses in Birmingham to commute daily to London, resulting in people in Birmingham having to move further out as well.

There is a host of reasons for this: London properties being used as ‘investments’ rather than homes, people coming from overseas for jobs in London’s finance and IT sectors, the usual wealthy double-income families (the “double income, no kids yet” set as well as the “two healthy incomes, can afford a nanny” types). In addition, London gets much greater investment in public transport than anywhere else, allowing it to be a showcase for public transport and accessibility while provincial areas (cities and small towns) are stuck with hand-me down buses and “Pacer” trains and may well be for a good few years yet. Look at the money being spent on driving an east-west rail line through London to get people from the Berkshire commuterlands and Heathrow Airport to and from the City while the electrification of the line from Manchester east to Yorkshire has been downgraded again. In northern cities, it is said that you can tell which trains are coming from or going to London without looking at the destination boards — they’re always the shiny new long ones. It is no surprise that people in the north resent London and may not be impressed by its claims to be a “world city”.

Of course, the Brexiteers complaining (like Julia Hartley-Brewer, the right-wing LBC presenter) will complain about any apparent show of opposition to Brexit, even in a city where most of the vote was to remain. The most vehement Brexiteers in politics and the media are concerned with power, and do not mind if other people are impoverished so that they can attain it. But let’s not pretend that London is independent of Brexit or the problems that led to it. Yes, we’re a multicultural city; we’re not the only one. Yes, we have world-class universities; so do other British cities. Yes, we voted to stay in the EU and we have strong links to Europe at most levels of our society; the same can be said of other major cities. But our showpiece status is paid for by everyone in British society, and not everyone gets the benefit. Besides the minority of small-minded provincials, there are a lot of people in England whose minds could — and must — be changed about Brexit and wrapping ourselves in a blue flag and congratulating ourselves about things that aren’t entirely our achievement is not the way to do it.

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