Like many people I woke up yesterday to find myself in a different country. London appeared to be stunned. The tubes were eerily quiet and subdued. After all, less than 50% of Londoners were born British. My mood oscillated between despair and anger. It feels like we are in a bad science fiction movie. Last night I tweeted that if Scotland is allowed a referendum on independence, London deserves one too. Two people responded that London was elitist and needed to pay reparations for the damage done to the rest of England.
I was stunned. Almost physically rocked by these statements.
This morning I woke up with a desire to understand what had happened. This is my attempt to understand. I am a child asking for help. Not a patriarch forcing my opinion on others.
I grew up in Leicester. The school I went to was multicultural. A third of my school were Asian (Indian), many from families that had fled Idi Amin… refugees. I first started to observe cultural segregation at Sixth Form College. Asian girls were discouraged from mixing with white boys. There was no tension, just segregation. My first experience of racism was at University in Newcastle. It was a small thing but I had not noticed that my friendship group was multi-cultural compared to other mono-cultural groups, but someone else had noticed. I have been fortunate to work in IT in the “City” for over two decades. In 2000 my team consisted of Four brits (one of Asian descent, one gay), an American, A Canadian, A peruvian, A Hungarian, An East German (former member of the East German Army), A Frenchman… you get the idea. When I arrived in the City in 1993, it was a magnet for the best and brightest in the UK. By 2000 it was a magnet for the best and brightest in the World. These are not upper class privileged sorts, they are hard working individuals that applied themselves to be good at subjects that many find boring and tedious and damned hard work. They work hard, they play hard, and they pay a shed load of tax. Being part of Europe is big part of why we have jobs in London. Paying tax is a way of contributing back to the society that we grew up in.
Londoners appear to contribute about 1/4 of tax*. About an 1/8 of tax is spent on London. That means that London is a massive net contributor to the rest of the country. As a Londoner I’m happy to do my bit to help the rest of the country.
Less than 50% of London was born British. London is an international city built on immigration. London does not appear to have the same kind of problems with immigration that the rest of England has. One of the most stomach churning and revealing stories in Brexit was the story Farage told of a little old lady saying “Come and see what immigration has done to our community” How can we not have empathy and sympathy for this little old Lady. I met an old Lady like that in the local launderette when our washing machine died. I live in a white middle class street. At the end of the street is the main road that is as multi-cultural as you can get. There are white working class boozers with menacing smokers stood outside who eye you as you walk past. There are shops servicing clientele from the Middle East, North Africa and Poland… everything is Halal. There is a Mosque that is next door to the Music Venue that caters for up and coming bands, weddings and office parties. It is not always harmonious, especially when it comes to finding a parking space. Parking is a problem, compounded by the mini cab firm where all the drivers are from Somalia. Though when I need a taxi to the airport, they are reliable and normally listening to Radio 4 as a way to improve their English. Its an integrated multi-cultural community where different groups respectfully co-exist… apart from the parking. Touch wood, I’ve never felt that threatened, apart from the scary little old lady in the launderette. Within five minutes she had told me she wrote regularly to David Cameron… until the police visited and asked her not to. She then confided she still wrote, but used an alias.
I am one of the 1%. My earnings are in the top 1% of the country. In London, that means I can just about afford a mezzanine or one bedroom flat in one of the “up and coming” parts of the City. At 1% I cannot afford to hop between countries to avoid paying any tax. I’m proud to pay my tax and consider people like Philip Green to be an enemy of the state for avoiding paying tax on a level that would pay for a hospital or a school.
I do not feel elite, especially when standing in a packed tube seating my way to work and back.
Then Brexit, and the accusation that London is the elite and needs to pay reparation. What has London done wrong that the rest of the country has decided to destroy our jobs and our future? We are already paying in twice as much as we take out. Don’t blame us for parliament, we only voted a dozen or so politicians in. The rest of the country voted the rest in. Londoners hate the politicians and their Old Etonian shady deals with Philip Green as much as anyone. So what is going on?
I think Brexit is just another manifestion of a global phenomena. The world economy is changing. Engineering jobs are either moving to the most highly skilled areas of the world (e.g. Germany) or the cheapest areas of the World (e.g. Asia). There are fewer engineering jobs to go round. America is suffering the same problem which is giving rise to Trump. The best explanation I’ve read is that the blue collar engineering class does not want hand outs, they want jobs. According to Dan Pink, motivation requires Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Our engineering class is given nothing… just social handouts and jobs that will never let them achieve satisfaction. London’s sin has been to assume that paying for the NHS and Welfare for big parts of England was enough. Clearly it is not enough, message received. We need jobs, not McJobs, but real jobs.
The elderly in this country have been lied to and deceived during the Brexit campaign, by both sides. Pensions account for the largest part of the UK budget. Leaving the EU will result in inflation which erodes the value of pensions. Clearly the elderly in the UK are scared of immigrants. Even in my street, the elderly are scared. This is where we need to act. We need to create programs to integrate the elderly into modern communities so that they can live richer more fulfilling lives, lives with less fear.
So lets understand the relationship between London and the rest of England. A few years ago I encountered the Benjamin Franklin Effect. Its a cognitive dissonance that I think helps to explain the relationships between Parents and Teenagers. In effect, we like someone because we do something for them, rather than we like someone because they do something for us. I suspect that the rest of England is resentful of London whereas London likes the rest of England (because that’s where we come from after all). This also explains why Wales and Cornwall voted to leave the EU despite receiving massive support from the EU. They don’t want your money (they need it and resent you for giving it), they want their dignity (and the EUs money takes it away).
So here is a thought. We need to create jobs that have meaning for the rest of England. Lets identify a deprived area of England, and relocate the Government to that area generating jobs to revive the community. How do we pay for this? We simply sell the buildings that the government occupies. The British Government is housed in some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and there is absolutely no reason in the modern age for that to be the case. The houses of parliament can be redeveloped as a museum/leisure centre/theme park for tourists. Once the area is revitalised and if necessary, we move the government again. Perhaps every ten years or so.
I get the feeling I’m reading this completely wrong. Would love to know what I’m missing.
I am proud to be British and European, however Britain is about my past and who I am, and Europe is about my future and the future of my children.I choose to be European for the sake of my children and over the next two years I intend to fight (in the courts if necessary) to remain my European status. If that means London needs to leave Britain, so be it.
*It would be great if the government would make it easier to see how tax is collected and spent.
June 25th, 2016 at 5:39 pm
June 26th, 2016 at 7:31 am
We’re in a situation characterised by retrospective coherence:
June 26th, 2016 at 1:55 pm
A very thoughtful piece and I substantially agree with it’s content—but interestingly I think the tone of it illustrates part of the problem.
Some background: as you might recall, I have been what I”m happy to call an “internal economic migrant” to London twice—so far. Once in the 1990s, largely by accident, and once in the 2000s by cold calculation.
I grew up in Co. Durham and I can still recall the way that my woodwork, metalwork, and technical drawing teachers—if I had been a bit less academically capable there’d be animal husbandry in there too—descended into what I now recognise to have been depression as the local industries that they saw themselves as feeding with skilled future workers were dismantled. No more ship-building, no more rolling stock building, and—therefore—no more toolmakers, no more foundries, no more steel smelting, and eventually no more coal mining. We all understand the economics of globalisation and how much of British heave industry was its own worst enemy—and you will have seen similar changes in Leicester. Change the names of the industries a bit and similar stories apply in Lancashire, and so on.
What is often overlooked today is that these industries were helped into the grave by a Conservative government that had no plan beyond some shiny-eyed conviction that “the market” would figure something out. And that this was a catastrophe for a large number of sometimes very substantial communities which had been built around those industries for generations. Shildon depended on its waggon works for almost 160 years. Armstrong’s did heavy engineering at Elswick for almost 140, just as long as Consett made iron and steel. That the government of the day considered the destruction of this community, culture and social fabric in narrowly utilitarian, economic terms is a wound that still has not healed. There was, at best, a casual disregard for those people, and at worst a sort of gleeful triumphalism over the old, dirty, unionised, Labour-voting industries.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m very glad and grateful that I had the option of—as I often describe it—an indoor job with no heavy lifting. When I look at my great-grandfather’s Davy lamp I don’t feel any romantic desire to have been a miner. I was the first—happily, no longer only—member of my (quite widely extended) family to graduate from a university, thanks to the 1962 Education Act of fond memory, and very lucky for me.
Now, Consett steel works closed in 1980, Elswick Works substantially closed in 1982, Shildon Waggon Works closed in 1984, Easington Colliery struggled on to 1993. In 1983, though, that same Conservative government dismantled another industry—the cosy, closed world of genteel chummy banking and broking and underwriting in the City of London. Also with an amount of glee, I suspect. But what a difference! Consett—for one example—was plunged into a local recession rather more severe than the one currently being enjoyed by Greece. Unemployment there only returned to near the national average once the former steelworkers died off. Their children fled, if they could. London, on the other hand, was filled with cheering yuppies and became a major destination for greedy chancers of every type. I was struck, on Friday morning, how the celebrations at the leave.eu HQ very closely resembled the pictures of the Big Bang from the 80s. Young men of a certain glossy type, in tailored suits and silk ties around those strange cut-away shirt collars that no-one else in the country wears. Perfect teeth. Huge watches. Is this difference—and its long, long legacy—the “fault” of Londoners? No. Especially not of the cleaners who spend 2 hours on the bus each way to and from each of their three jobs, and such like. But those people don’t get on the news and don’t form the public image of London.
London as done well out of preferential attachment. London was not a uniquely global city in the UK until quite recently. The other great port cities, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, and many others, had global reach, fame and wealth. But their kind of globalism, built on tangible commodities, has fallen out of favour whereas London’s, built on intangible financial instruments, has gone from strength to strength. Is that the “fault” of Londoners? Again, no. But the association of that city with that industry with the frequent scandals in which vast amounts of value are destroyed with no apparent repercussions creates a poor odour.
You mentioned being crammed into a packed tube. Consider this: on several routes out of Liverpool Lime St. travellers now enjoy Class 319 EMUs recycled from Thameslink. The north west literally receives London’s—despised and outdated—trains as hand-me-downs. And I still say “enjoy”, because on many routes out of Manchester we still use the Class 14x DMUs built in the early 1980s as a short-term fix, stop-gap measure by combining a Leyland bus with a goods waggon—no joke, that’s really what they did. London always gets new trains first. It’s that preferential attachment again. And again that’s not Londoner’s fault. And again it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many.
HS2 is committed to turning Birmingham into a dormitory town for London and in theory to connecting Manchester and Sheffield. But anyone who recalls that the Eurostar was always supposed to run “North of London”—there’s a Eurostar depot at Manchester!—views this plan with great scepticism.
I like your plan to relocate the government. The legislature can come to Manchester—the Town Hall will be cosily familiar for them, it already stands in for Westminster in Film and Television—and the executive can go to, let’s say, Leeds, and then we’d see the desperately needed upgrades to the east-west rail and road links arrive pretty rapidly!
You’re right that the rest of the country resents London, and you’re right that this is mostly because of things that are not really Londoner’s fault—when people elsewhere in the UK, and in England specifically, say “London” there’s a lot of synecdoche going on. But pointing out that London is a net contributor to the UK will, as you suggest, only make that worse.
I’m not sure, based on having lived there for 10 years, this time round, that many in London share your happiness to “help the rest of the country”. Although I’m glad that you do. And I am sure that many people outside London would be disgusted by the proposition that this is what you are doing—although the arithmetic does say so. Ungrateful? Yes.
Personally, I don’t think that many Londoners like, or even think much about, the rest of the country at all. It is, as we saw on Friday morning, a strange, alien place to them. And I think that much of the rest of the country is of this opinion too. I think that what really upsets people outside London is not the workings of preferential attachment, nor the halo effect that comes from proximity to the legislature and executive, nor even the general perception of an air of bourgeoise degeneracy that surrounds London—it’s that so very few Londoners recognise that they’ve been lucky, that so very few Londoners accept that what is not their fault is also not due to their virtue, that so many Londoners seem far too happy to ride along with the neo-liberal experiment that has crippled so many other parts of the country.
June 26th, 2016 at 2:46 pm
I could not agree more.
Sadly as a teenager I supported some of these moves by the government. I wish I could go back and fix myself. I do feel privileged to live in London. I do feel that it is an elite place, but probably not for the same reasons many do. I am proud of the multi-cultural co-existance that has lead to some of the finest food I’ve ever had. A place where you very rarely hear English on the tube and if you do, you tend to be wary. I’m proud of the elite IT people I know (including you) who have contributed our little bit to the global IT world.
But regrets and history won’t help us (unless we learn from them). The question is where do we go from here?
This is not a problem unique to Britain. It is a problem affecting much of Europe and the United States. Global economics has shifted from the physical to the virtual. How do we create real purpose for people who are no longer needed for the jobs they used to do. Sorry, let me rephrase. How do we support communities so that they can create real purpose and real jobs? Earlier today I was thinking (selfishly of course) about how I might get dual nationality in another European country by funding a startup. How about instead, we fund startups in areas that need purpose. We find the entrepreneurs* in those communities and fund them to rebuild. Not McJobs and Hand outs, but real jobs with real purpose. (* There is a great TED talk from a guy who spent his life delivering aid to Africa. He said that aid wasn’t the solution. Instead he said you had to find the entrepreneurs already in the community and support them.)
How do we move forward in a way that means we learn from the past? How can London become part of the solution instead of part of the problem?
June 26th, 2016 at 3:18 pm
Yes, the McJobs are a problem. What we now see coming unstuck is that the Labour government of 1997–2010 patched up the local economies wrecked by the Conservative one of 1979–1997 by shunting civil service jobs to various remote—(from London) and unappealing (to the metropolitan power minority*) locations. But now we’re back in the clutches of a Conservative party that sees unfinished the business of “rolling back the frontiers of the state”. Those civil service jobs are now at risk. And there is still nothing genuinely productive for people in many of those locations to do.
Funding startups in areas of the UK that need work is a good idea. But where will the money come from? When I left London in 2000 after the .com bubble burst I worked for a start-up in Cumbria which was—ironically enough—funded by inward investment to the UK from India.
[*]I don’t like the term “elite”, at least not as applied to the political class. I call them what they are: the tiny unrepresentative minority that holds power.
June 26th, 2016 at 10:36 pm
[…] or been distracted by real life outside of twitter. I was therefore really stunned and impressed by this post from Chris in response to the twitter exchange. While I was gathering my thoughts there was a […]
June 27th, 2016 at 8:49 am
I agree with much of this.
It feels that these problems have been twenty or more years coming. Thirty years since the miners strike, when entire regions were decimated and a deep mistrust of politicians was ingrained into large areas of society.
As the South grew wealthier the North stood still or regressed economically – and this was blamed on Europe or migrants or anyone but the government imposing austerity measures that naturally hit the poor harder.
Add to this the populist hysteria whipped up by a press that amplifies the margins of public opinion, a voting system that means for many their vote is meaningless (Labour voter in Witney? You have no voice) and it’s little wonder that the electorate chose to lash out.
The worst part of this is that we had a Prime Minister so privileged that – as Dead Ringers put it – the result was a surprise as he’d asked to win so was rather shocked when he didn’t get his way.
Something of a ramble. Personally I hope we don’t do this and there’s still a way back. But it will require massive structural change. Some that I can think of:
– the voting system needs to give everyone a vote. Bring in PR. This should also help prevent government drifting to extremes
– I love the idea of a mobile government.
– Similarly, pay teachers and nurses properly. This is a really simple conduit to redistribute wealth.
– Regeneration schemes need to be meaningful. What kind of regeneration works? What are the goals? Etc.
There must be more. Stuff that means, if nothing else, that I don’t feel obliged to remain in London to have access to the best tech jobs!