London and the end of the world

London is the biggest city in England, by far. It’s the country’s commercial hub, administrative centre, cultural powerhouse, priciest 610 square miles of real estate and an eight million-person fuck you to everyone who says that different cultures and ethnicities can’t peacefully coexist. And it’s the ultimate symbol of the self-destructive insanity of our way of life.

To some extent, it’s true of all modern cities. But London represents the modern city at its most extreme – most unequal and elite-dominated, most wasteful and polluting, most insular and unaccountably powerful. It’s a planet-choking over-concentration of entitled, self-fixated, consumption-crazed hyper-individualists living life as if the world’s some sort of consequence-free playpen built for their own personal enjoyment – plus thousands of less fortunate Londoners living in abject poverty, and millions struggling and just about managing to keep their heads above it. It’s also world capital of neoliberalism, and the values system that’s a) destroying, and b) crushing any attempt to save the environment.

Never making much of an effort to hide my borderline Partridgesque London-phobia, I try and avoid going as much as possible. Recently, though, I couldn’t get out of it, and spent a weekend wandering around the capital being walloped by the wrongness of the place. Continue reading “London and the end of the world”

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London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf

The oligarch's den
The oligarch’s den

Click here for Part One.

… and here for Part Two.

Our unexpectedly politicised amble around the capital had been equal parts fascinating and grim, but it was time to go. The rubbery sandwiches on the coach back to Somerset weren’t going to eat themselves.

Despite our rampaging cynicism, The Bemolution is a sucker for a poetic conclusion. And of all the places we could’ve ended our London adventure, a climactically big square surrounded by international banks seemed especially apt considering everything we’d seen, thought and talked about along the way.

It was completely by accident. We thought we’d try and squeeze in a last rendezvous with a third friend – sassy and savage-witted writer type from home, spent two maddening years bombarding the capital with fruitless job applications, finally got hired and is now doing quite well – before making a mad dash across London to catch the last escape pod out of Hammersmith Bus Station. Travelling to meet her in Greenwich, our witless provincial brain almost overloaded trying to work out where the Jubilee Line met the DLR – you have to physically leave one station at Canary Wharf and walk to another, it took us an embarrassingly long time to realise. And as we glided ethereally up the escalator and emerged from the glass Teletubby dome of the station entrance, it suddenly hit us that Canary Wharf was that Canary Wharf. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf”

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Two) – To Tower Hamlets

London remains scandalously unequal
London remains scandalously unequal

Click here for Part One

From London and its most gentrified and fake, we go the city at its poorest and most raw.

Leaving gentrified Bermondsey, we went to visit another friend. We knew Compadre #2 from school days in Somerset, when she was a warm, caring, alternative type who wrote and sang her own songs. She still is warm, caring and alternative, thankfully, but has chucked in the guitar and the lashings of emo-standard black eyeliner for a job in a small music promotions company.

It’s laughable to look back on now – especially given where we’d just come from – but at school we called her ‘posh’. She lived in a slightly nicer part of town and her dad had a reasonably well-paid job. In truth, they were just about middle class, and probably didn’t bring in a whole lot more than the average household income.

Now she lives in Tower Hamlets, one of the most glaringly unequal parts of the country, let alone London. It’s hugely deprived – 42% of its children are impoverished, the highest proportion anywhere in Britain, and its richest inhabitants live about 11 years longer than its poorest ones. But it’s just a few minutes east of the oligarch’s den itself, the City, and the gleaming phalluses of the bank buildings dominate the horizon. A relatively small number of super-rich residents pull the borough’s average income up to £58,000 a year – the second-highest in the country – and its proximity to the biggest financial hub outside Wall Street gives it an economy worth £68bn. Its house prices have gone up a mind-bending 43% since last year. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Two) – To Tower Hamlets”

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part One)

London and the Shard
London and the Shard

Only right that these should be read listening to mid-’80s Style Council tracks – mingling poppy lounge jazz with blatantly socialist lyrics – on repeat, because it’s what we had stuck in our head while it was being written.

A ramblingly political travelogue taking in the capital at its richest, poorest, and most rampantly neoliberal

The Bemolution recently went to London – big, posh, plutocratic London – which is always morally troubling. It’s quite an easy place to dislike if you don’t happen to live there. Hugely, unaccountably powerful, the capital determines so much about the way the rest of us live – and, funnily enough, seems to wield that power in a way that serves the city and its richest denizens first, everyone else second.

Of course, more than a smidgen of anti-London sentiment can be put down to good old fashioned provincial bigotry. It’s stupid, for example, to blame the largely powerless majority of the city’s eight million citizens for the self-serving political and economic agenda pursued by a tiny minority. Then again, said super-elite wouldn’t have such an easy ride if a sizeable wedge of the capital’s rich-but-not-quite-super-rich didn’t go along with it – especially the conga-line of graduates from wealthy backgrounds that pour into the City year after year, trampling over the poorest Londoners by shunting house prices and living costs up and up and up. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part One)”

Boris and the Local Elections

The Mayor of London
The Mayor of London

Last week’s local elections trundled past with leaden midterm predictability.

Clearly peeved, a significant slice of the electorate stayed at home, and those that turned out roundly rejected the Coalition parties. Labour made huge gains, largely by default.

The Tories and Lib Dems were soon scrabbling to write off palpable public discontent as typical mid-term blues. Ed Miliband, on the other hand, was extrapolating growing public trust in his leadership from the protest votes begrudgingly cast in Labour’s favour.

Behind the dubiously rose-tinted interpretations, the cold hard statistics remain grim for the government. The Tories lost 419 councillors and 12 councils. The Lib Dems suffered a second successive electoral wipe-out: they lost 44% of the seats they were defending, leaving them with their smallest amount of councillors since they first emerged from the ashes of the SDP in 1988. Labour picked up 780 council seats, but based on the lowest voter turnout in 12 years. Continue reading “Boris and the Local Elections”