Just before Christmas I was pontificating on what step we must take in order to set this great country of ours on the right track and seized the opportunity to remind everybody of the harm that was done to our national community by the crackpot economics and hate-based social policies of Margaret Thatcher. One comment that came in from somebody on my friends list suggested the country was a mess because Good Saint Margaret had not gone far enough and that the answer to our failing public services, culture of greed and selfishness and looming crises in the financial sector, health, education, transport and everything is to cut income tax to 16%.
A-ha I though, enjoying an Alan Partridge moment, a-ha, another whinging Londoner who can’t afford his mortgage and is looking for a thinly disguised handout from us sensible, pragmatic, stoical, hard working Northerners, Mildlanders and West Country folk.
Well up to now of course, we have never objected to subsidising the capital. Nineteenth century social commentator William Cobbett dubbed it The Great Wen (wen: a wart or benign tumour) and described the city as “the home of stock jobbers and tax eaters” or to put it another way people who grow rich without actually contributing anything to the society from which they enrich themselves. It may seem a bit unkind of him to lump all Londoners into this category but sometimes generalisation helps to make a point. And Cobbett did point out that there was plenty of room outside London to accommodate all those Londoners willing to get proper jobs and work for a living.
Cobbett’s hatred of London was extreme. Most of us have been happy to abide by the understanding that we subsidise London so long as few Londoners ever venture north of Watford or west of Reading.
About fifteen years ago I had the misfortune to work with the kind of Londoner who makes people hate Londoners. An East End boy who had moved up to a Bovis home in the suburban sprawl north of the North Circular Road, he thought his three bed dormer and his Renault Five meant he had joined the nouveau riche. Every day I endured his witless remarks about the north being like Coronation Street, about keeping coal in the bath, his repeating “Ee bah gum” as if it were something real people ever actually said and his general delusions of superiority. And of course his prattling about how marvellous Margaret Thatcher had been for the country.
One day I happened to mention I was extending my weekend in order to put some wall lights in the dining room and doing a few other domestic jobs. Being a long term house addict he jumped in;
“Oh yeah, I put wall lights in our lounge, maybe I can help. What’s your room like?”
I drew a quick sketch and said the lights were going on the chimney breast to cast a soft light over the table.
“Yeah, but its not that simple,” he said, “where’s your television?”
I told him that was irrelevant.
“Nah, nah, it’s very important. If you’re not careful you will just see your lights reflected in the television screen.”
I asked, “But how can that happen when the television is not even in that room?”
“Oh, its a dining kitchen."
"No, its a dining room, the kitchen is a separate room. And the tele isn't in the dining room."
Where is it?”
“In the lounge?”
The cockiness faded a little, “Jesus, they must be small rooms.” he said hopefully.
“Well the lounge is fourteen feet by twelve, the dining room seventeen by fifteen and the kitchen about fifteen by nine. So how is the position of the tele relevant to my wall lights?"
By now he was totally gobsmacked – and I had not told him about the cellar, the attic and what used to be the scullery cum wash-house.
After the weekend I took to work a photograph of the view acrosse the valley of the Lancashire Calder to Pendle Hill, taken from my front door.
“Where’s that,” my aspirational colleague asked, “Scotland.”
“No, my front garden,” I told him. Well it was not a total lie, the first twenty-five feet was.
"You got a view like that in Lancashire."
"Lancashire is beautiful and Coronation Street is a fairy story.
"How much is your mortgage for that place?" he asked.
"About a hundred a month." I thought he was going to be sick. Londoners just don't get the North.
That assumption of superiority is something I have often encountered in London, usually from people who have taken on a mortgage they cannot afford and delude themselves they have moved up in the world. They are invariably fans of Margaret Thatcher.
Unfortunately Thatcherite politics depends on engineering artificial economic booms by lowering interest rates to a level at which it becomes viable to borrow to invest. And Thatcherite philosophy tells is followers (quite wrongly) that the best investment is property because property values always increase. What goes up must come down of course and every housing boom bursts just as soon as reality rears its ugly head. Unfortunately the breed of Londoners who are responsible for that city’s ills are immune to reality. Thus as well as convincing themselves the only reason for the collapse of the property market is that people outside London are not prepared to take on mortgages of twenty five times their annual salary, they are prepared to believe the Olympic White Elephant is a wonderful money making opportunity, that tax cuts for the rich can result in more money flooding into the economy so everyone gets richer (in reality more money flows out of the economy through offshore investment vehicles and everyone, excepting the very very rich, gets poorer.
So while contemplating the meaning of life on New Year’s Day I was suddenly overwhelmed by the an idea that will save us hard-working, level headed etc. non-Londoners from having to subsidise the great Wen with our taxes while our sensitive ears are constantly assailed with their whining about needing more favours, more subsidies and more everything.
Let’s dump London out of the UK. Its an idea that should make everybody happy, Londoners for as long as it takes to learn they need us more than we need them, the rest of us forever. I would not exclude all Londoners from the UK, like Cobbett I would be willing to accommodate those willing to work at proper jobs that do not involve property developing, trading financial derivatives or flogging dodgy T-shirts to tourists.
But allowing some people* to stay, country lovers like Mike St. Mark, sweeties like eggbod and entertaining folk such as Jack Frost out would make room for us to exile to independent London all the people outside London who work in financial services, anybody who thinks Thatcher was a good leader, anyone who has owned more than two houses in the last five years or anyone who drives a black can and can tell you where St. Mary at Hill is.
I would even let a top quality Londoner like Ros Thompson bring Arsenal along with her, after all there are a few big cities in dire need of a decent football team. Among those that spring to mind are Bristol, Sheffield and ... dare I say it?....yes I dare – NEWCASTLE.
*If your name is not among those of Londoners to be saved, don’t worry, the full list is too long to reproduce here.