The Scoop

Passport to London: If the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish can do it, why can’t the Metropolis run its own affairs?

Darryl Chamberlain | Tuesday 14 June, 2011 16:25

Head north, and thereʼs something stirring. Even further north than Cockfosters. Last month, the Scottish National Party won a convincing victory at the countryʼs polls—and promised a referendum on independence.

First Minister Alex Salmond has four years to win Scotland over to life on its own – and land a few blows on Westminster politics in the process.

A question: why canʼt London have a bit of what theyʼre having? Isnʼt it time for us to break away too?

London is a wildly different place to the rest of England, never mind the rest of the UK. Weʼre more socially liberal than the rest of the country, we live in communities that are far more mixed. Weʼre less likely to drive, and more likely to spend huge amounts of time stuck on public transport. Weʼve more in common with New York or Paris than Newcastle or Portsmouth.

Take a look at the voting figures in last monthʼs AV referendum, with a string of inner London boroughs backing a change which was a step too far for the rest of the nation.

Opponents might sneer at “luvvy land”, but thatʼs the point. In London, weʼre different. Did you put yourself down as “English” in the census?

Look at the two men weʼve elected to run the place. A newt-loving man with a raspy voice who loves winding up American diplomats on one hand, a floppy-haired fop on a bike with a bizarre line in Latin anecdotes on the other.

Both, in their own ways, engaging ambassadors for the capital. And seen as dangerous threats by their own party leaders. Because that is how many in the rest of England see London—as a threat. Read below the line on any comment piece on the possibility of an English parliament, and within the first few comments someone will sound off about how London leeches off the rest of England, takes all the jobs and investment and produces nothing in return.

Yet if London kept the tax revenue earned within its borders—or at least had more control over raising its own budget – weʼd be able to make a much better job of running our transport network, for example.

The Tubeʼs current woes can be traced back to the last government trying to sell off its maintenance” — bitterly resisted by Ken Livingstone before he rejoined the Labour Party. He was right, Gordon Brown was wrong – but London had to pick up the bill.

In the old days, Ken used to taunt the Tories with unemployment figures on the roof of the old County Hall. But Labour wouldnʼt even give him the power to empty Londonʼs bins, so we still have 33 different recycling policies. And the Conservatives wonʼt even give Boris Johnson the Royal Parks, so keen is the UK government to hang onto the prestige of chasing dogs out of flower gardens.

So if they donʼt trust us, why donʼt we just go it alone? Turn the Houses of Parliament into a museum and ship the MPs and Lords off to Birmingham. Shift the rest of the BBC to Salford. Install Waterloo Sunset as our national anthem. And the royals have some nice pads around the country they can move to – although President Boris might be a step too far…

Fanciful nonsense? Maybe. But over the next few years, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland asserting their own identities, London is going to have to work out what it wants.

Perhaps weʼre not yet ready to stick border posts up on the M25. But itʼs likely the UK will be a different place in a decade or two. Does London want to be part of an England which is getting increasingly resentful of the Great Wenʼs power?
Or does it want to go it alone, celebrating the the fact that it is different, and giving the likes of Liverpool and Leeds a chance to breathe and fight for their own futures without us getting in the way?

Weʼre not likely to be occupying Trafalgar Square any day soon. But sooner or later, some difficult questions will have to be resolved about the relationship between London and the rest of England. It might be a good idea if we came up with some answers now, before they get made for us.

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