Visions Robin from Common Weal

Robin from Common Weal

Listening from afar, I struggle to pin down what people who stay in London actually think of the place.

The same demographic seems equally to be overflowing with pride at your city’s status as a ‘global city’ while simultaneously bemoaning the poor quality of life they experience. So what is it – the utopia of your shiny big Saudi-owned luxury skyscrapers, or the dystopia of your tiny bedroom and expeditionary commutes? And don’t you think these things might be inextricably linked?

I’ve had many odd conversations about London. Ordinary Londoners seems to have a disproportionate love of world-class restaurants they will never be allowed to eat in, of world-class jazz concerts they will never go to, of a world-class transport system they seem to hate, of a modern, outward-looking worldview which still mass produces postcards of Ginger Spice from 1996. But mention this to them and it seems to play out like an Ealing comedy with cockney cab driver and millionaire bond dealer joining arms in solidarity at the affront.

To my eyes, people in other British cities are less likely to advocate pride in aspects of their city which are actually against their own personal interests. It seems to me that modern London is heavily predicated on a propaganda model. Pride in the place people live (a good thing) has been pushed towards ego at how much more important it is than everywhere else (not a good thing). It allows young professionals to make jokes about ‘the north’ to each other in their shared bedrooms. Which is a standard propaganda model way for an elite to gain permission to shape policy and practice in a way that is harmful to the wider population. It’s flag-waving without flags – lie back and think of London.

If this propaganda-driven view of London was challenged, if the assumption that ‘global’ has a single definition was explored, it would open up questions which I never hear discussed. So I’ve heard that the over-development of London and the under-development of much of the rest of the UK is bad for the non-Londoner.

But what about a debate about whether the greater development of the rest of the nation might actually be good for Londoners?

If London stopped demanding that any economic activity of any value absolutely must be based in the city, if other cities were granted a sliver of economic development, might it actually be good for London? I don’t think there is any threat to London’s booming economy if the odd decent job was available in Birmingham or Newcastle or Cardiff. But a more even spread of development across Britain might just take pressure off the physical and social infrastructure of the capital. And it might leave space for a proper discussion of what localism would mean in the city – if you turn down the dial just a touch on the obsession with globalism it could leave space for a less propaganda-driven and more people-driven economy.

If London really needs to strip economic activity from the rest of its host nation to be great, then it isn’t really great at all. Sure, you can grow at 35 per cent over a period when South Wales grows at three per cent. But you can’t do it forever without serious consequences, both for you and for them.

London could lead this process of decentralising Britain, good for itself and good for others. Or it can continue its monopoly approach to Britain’s wealth, pricing itself out of existence for ordinary people and creating an ever-increasing resentment on the part of Londoners and non-Londoners alike. A truly great city wouldn’t require quite as much propaganda.

You can find out more about Common Weal and its vision here.