Saturday, 18 May 2013

London - an independent state?

I read an astonishing article by leading journalist Simon Jenkins, former editor of "The Times" and Chairman of the National Trust, writing in the Evening Standard last week.

He says that London should become an independent nation, rather like the Vatican, or Monte Carlo and leave The European Union.  He says that London is a world city like New York, not a city which can be ruled by Brussels. It would raise its own taxes and have an economy the size of Luxembourg.

The full article is "London should quit the EU and ditch the UK too"

As someone born in Surrey, who lives in Kent and works in London, at first I felt deeply insulted.  London is the heart of our national psyche. Up until now, it has ruled and dominated our national life. My family, once from rural England, like countless others left to find work in London between 1830-1850. London is deep in our genes. I would have to cross the invisible border at the M25 to work.

Simon Jenkins suggests that the British Civil Service would move out of London, and the Mayor, Boris Johnson's office would run it.  Would Oxford or Canterbury become the new English capital? The Court of Charles 1st moved to Oxford during the Civil War.  The Queen would stay at Windsor and Sandringham and leave Boris Johnson, elected princeling of London, to lord it over an increasingly international population of wealthy people, many without roots in this country.

Then, suddenly, I caught "the vision". We, in the rest of England would have less news on TV about the views of hip, metro Londoners and Westminster  politicians. Instead, we would hear from small business people, shop-keepers, local police, local football team, farmers and people with interesting, rural hobbies. We would focus on building up provincial wealth, not on building London, which sucks up all our effort.  Our TV news would be about real people, living human lives in the lovely shires of England.  We would have new local celebrities accomplishing worthwhile things - not jet-setting from capital to capital, adding to carbon.

Some of us already feel that we, in England, are living in two different countries. There is
  • "London", the great city, set on being ultra-modern and cutting-edge, filled with young metropolitans disconnected from family life, trees, grass, birdsong and natural beauty.  
  • rural and provincial England, still largely unchanged from my childhood, slower, kinder, more amateur.    
In the past, I could identify with what  intelligent, media Londoners said but the language has changed. It seems there is a growing divide in terms of our once shared vision.  London seems propped up by people who work all hours, but do not need a work-life balance. The provinces are reserved for family life, walks at the weekend, country pubs and gardening.

If you have firm values, the energy of London will hold you up and remake your life, as it has for countless people, including Shakespeare. If you have shifting values London can easily consume you.

I begin to have fears for London. It could lose its influence, rather than rule the world, as Simon Jenkins suggests. A city without a heart will die. The BBC has already moved out of London to Salford though it is still run by London's metropolitan types.  Who knows if King Charles III will eventually sell Buckingham Palace?  His heart lies  in the countryside.

If the will to be one nation has died in leading Londoners, we would have to shape our own futures - separately.  The outcome might be better than one thinks!

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