Thursday 19 December 2013

Why London has become a bit vampiric

The great vacuous bubble of ambition that is Boris Johnson doesn’t seem to get the point of Vince Cable’s remarks about London – “a giant suction machine draining the life” out of the English regions.

Neither does the Evening Standard. Boris has hit back explaining that London is generating more of Britain’s GDP than ever, without apparently realising that this is exactly the problem.

London is an economic vacuum cleaner, sucking up the available people, investment and ability to earn from everywhere else. That is why the economy still needs re-balancing.

Of course, the ability to earn for the exchequer is hardly unimportant. Somebody has to do it. But taken it to its logical conclusion, as Boris seems to be urging, the tyranny becomes clear: where London earns on everyone else’s behalf and the rest of the nation lives on its largesse and hand-outs, a miserable put-upon, berated semi-slavery.

It isn’t sustainable or economic, and it isn’t humane.

Meanwhile, the Great Vacuum Cleaner continues to suck – airport capacity, financial services, people, talent, knowhow, culture. And this isn’t just a Boris problem either – his predecessor, Ken Livingstone presided over a selfish policy to deliberately increase the population of London.

What he doesn't seem to have thought about was who was going to build the necessary schools.  As a result, we queue to get out of the tube stations just as we queued to get in.  The stress on the system is increasingly obvious.

Vince was articulating an important message, and it is also a traditional Liberal one. This was Lord Rosebery, the former Liberal Prime Minister, speaking about London in 1891:

"Sixty years ago a great Englishman, Cobbett, called it a wen. If it was a wen then, what is it now? A tumour, an elephantiasis sucking into its gorged system half the life and the blood and the bone of the rural districts."

Ebenezer Howard's book Garden Cities of Tomorrow quoted Liberal politicians describing London as a Moloch, gorging itself on the blood of youth.  Ask yourself, as Rosebery did, what is it now?

The truth is that London has become a kind of vampire, sucking in not just the wealth but the ability to create wealth.  Nor is an overheating, overcrowded Londion much fun to live in either.

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