Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner: Why the capital is good for us all

EDITOR'S BLOG: London should be there for everyone in the UK, says Matthew Gwyther.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 19 Oct 2015

Giving the capital stick for being an over-achiever is daft. But the red double decker is getting very full indeed and we don’t want the wheels to fall off. Even if there are many who wish London ill.

MT has just been granted an interview with Sir Peter Hendy, the guy who runs TfL (Transport for London) You can read the result in next month’s print magazine. He’s a rather likeable and pretty feisty individual. Obsessed and committed to reigning from the hottest bus seat on the globe. He defends his corner with rigour and when accused of coming up short, one of his defences is that services in his central London fiefdom are nowhere near as bad as the grim suburban rail lines into the capital.  

He goes as far as to describe Southeastern as ‘shit’, which will win him many Kentish commuting fans - not least with MT deputy editor Mister Saunders, who conducted the interview, and whose woes at the hands of Southern and Southeastern trains over the last Winter would have led Job himself to lay down on the third rail in a stark act of self-immolation. If Saunders had received a fair recompense for every delayed journey he’d have got twice the price of his season ticket back by now. 

London is full. Bursting at the seams. In February it whizzed past its previous population high of 8.6 million recorded before Hitler got to work after 1939. When I leave our office just north of Oxford Street on a Thursday or Friday there isn’t even any room on the pavement. Oxford Circus tube is shut with massive queues at rush hour because of severe overcrowding. A few hundred yards from the tube, the Japanese retailer Uniqlo has just agreed to pay a mad, dizzying £1,000 a square foot for its new store.

Meanwhile, on my Brompton I dodge squadrons of tipper trucks all intent on getting to the next gig double quick even if I or another two-wheeled unfortunate gets in the way. And, of course, this week there’s another 8 foot wide broom cupboard on sale for £750,000. Yawn. Respectable people are moving to….Croydon. You get the picture.

Plenty of people hate London. But most who live there don’t feel this. The Guardian - and geography lecturers from Lincoln University - periodically write nasty articles about how it unfairly hogs government expenditure and destabilizes the nation. (Never mind the fact that if it didn’t exist UK GDP would dive by about 35%.)

I defend London to the hilt. I was born there and - with the exception of 3 years at university - there I have remained. I’m lucky I got on its mad property ladder when I did. It is the best global mega-city going and knocks New York, Berlin and Tokyo into a cocked hat.  Moscow isn’t that great these days, either. Just ask a Muscovite.  

Ex-Mayor Bloomberg from Manhattan is being optimistically tipped to take over from Boris. Why not? You don’t know how proud it makes me that UKIP are such no-hopers in London they aren’t standing anywhere in the election. (Richard Desmond's £1.3 million donation would have been better spent giving his hapless journos a rise as they haven't had one for ten years ).

It’s funny how all these French and Russian and American non-doms don’t really want to live in Birmingham or Newcastle, despite their attractions. Can you see Morgan Stanley setting up in Swansea or Bradford? One wishes they would but that’s not the way the market works.

One of the funniest things I saw during the ‘squeeze the non-doms’ furore was the suggestion that they’d all decamp to Lisbon attracted by the soft tax rates on the rich there. Yeah. That’s definitely going to happen. You ever tasted Portuguese food? There’s a reason why Vasco de Gama left. He couldn’t take another mouthful of salt cod.  Even that strutting Narcissus Christiano Ronaldo preferred Manchester. For a while.

But the time has come to take the pressure off London. My boss Michael Hesletine’s ‘No Stone Unturned’ report made a lot of sense and it looks as if George Osborne woke up - albeit rather late - to getting power and money away and out of the capital. And allowing London, in turn, to keep its own revenue would help the knackered transport system with which Hendy struggles.  Further autonomy for the capital has its attractions because at the moment there’s no money to build more decent, affordable housing and the trains in are full.

One reason I write in this federalist vein is the unwholesome nationalistic tone that our politics has taken. One-nation voices are pretty quiet at the moment.  We’ve been set against each other. Martin Wolf has written an excellent piece in the FT this morning about why the SNP are dishonest, calculating chancers who will push it to the limit. For some reason that really defeats me Nicola Sturgeon and her puppet master Salmond probably wish the Blitz had achieved what it set out to.

Edinburgh is probably my second favourite city in Britain but she wishes to bring the capital down. When oil dives to $30 a barrel she’ll be coming cap in hand to London to fund her government, though. Salmond knows Londoners - who feel they could go it alone - will get so fed up with his outrageous demands and behaviour that the temptation will be to tell them to sling their hook and get on with it on their own.

London should be there for everyone in the UK, like a giant sow on her side. Thousands of Scots weekly commute down to the capital. Tens of thousands of other Europeans come and go. Even the appallingly expensive HS2 might be a good idea to get people in and out.

All this is what makes London so successful and attractive. But what makes it good is under threat from a combination of market forces and those who wish it ill. I fear a correction is imminent. I won’t be de-camping to Lisbon, though.

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