Like many people I woke up yesterday to find myself in a different country. London appeared to be stunned. The tubes were eerily quiet and subdued. After all, less than 50% of Londoners were born British. My mood oscillated between despair and anger. It feels like we are in a bad science fiction movie. Last night I tweeted that if Scotland is allowed a referendum on independence, London deserves one too. Two people responded that London was elitist and needed to pay reparations for the damage done to the rest of England.
I was stunned. Almost physically rocked by these statements.
This morning I woke up with a desire to understand what had happened. This is my attempt to understand. I am a child asking for help. Not a patriarch forcing my opinion on others.
I grew up in Leicester. The school I went to was multicultural. A third of my school were Asian (Indian), many from families that had fled Idi Amin… refugees. I first started to observe cultural segregation at Sixth Form College. Asian girls were discouraged from mixing with white boys. There was no tension, just segregation. My first experience of racism was at University in Newcastle. It was a small thing but I had not noticed that my friendship group was multi-cultural compared to other mono-cultural groups, but someone else had noticed. I have been fortunate to work in IT in the “City” for over two decades. In 2000 my team consisted of Four brits (one of Asian descent, one gay), an American, A Canadian, A peruvian, A Hungarian, An East German (former member of the East German Army), A Frenchman… you get the idea. When I arrived in the City in 1993, it was a magnet for the best and brightest in the UK. By 2000 it was a magnet for the best and brightest in the World. These are not upper class privileged sorts, they are hard working individuals that applied themselves to be good at subjects that many find boring and tedious and damned hard work. They work hard, they play hard, and they pay a shed load of tax. Being part of Europe is big part of why we have jobs in London. Paying tax is a way of contributing back to the society that we grew up in.
Londoners appear to contribute about 1/4 of tax*. About an 1/8 of tax is spent on London. That means that London is a massive net contributor to the rest of the country. As a Londoner I’m happy to do my bit to help the rest of the country.
Less than 50% of London was born British. London is an international city built on immigration. London does not appear to have the same kind of problems with immigration that the rest of England has. One of the most stomach churning and revealing stories in Brexit was the story Farage told of a little old lady saying “Come and see what immigration has done to our community” How can we not have empathy and sympathy for this little old Lady. I met an old Lady like that in the local launderette when our washing machine died. I live in a white middle class street. At the end of the street is the main road that is as multi-cultural as you can get. There are white working class boozers with menacing smokers stood outside who eye you as you walk past. There are shops servicing clientele from the Middle East, North Africa and Poland… everything is Halal. There is a Mosque that is next door to the Music Venue that caters for up and coming bands, weddings and office parties. It is not always harmonious, especially when it comes to finding a parking space. Parking is a problem, compounded by the mini cab firm where all the drivers are from Somalia. Though when I need a taxi to the airport, they are reliable and normally listening to Radio 4 as a way to improve their English. Its an integrated multi-cultural community where different groups respectfully co-exist… apart from the parking. Touch wood, I’ve never felt that threatened, apart from the scary little old lady in the launderette. Within five minutes she had told me she wrote regularly to David Cameron… until the police visited and asked her not to. She then confided she still wrote, but used an alias.
I am one of the 1%. My earnings are in the top 1% of the country. In London, that means I can just about afford a mezzanine or one bedroom flat in one of the “up and coming” parts of the City. At 1% I cannot afford to hop between countries to avoid paying any tax. I’m proud to pay my tax and consider people like Philip Green to be an enemy of the state for avoiding paying tax on a level that would pay for a hospital or a school.
I do not feel elite, especially when standing in a packed tube seating my way to work and back.
Then Brexit, and the accusation that London is the elite and needs to pay reparation. What has London done wrong that the rest of the country has decided to destroy our jobs and our future? We are already paying in twice as much as we take out. Don’t blame us for parliament, we only voted a dozen or so politicians in. The rest of the country voted the rest in. Londoners hate the politicians and their Old Etonian shady deals with Philip Green as much as anyone. So what is going on?
I think Brexit is just another manifestion of a global phenomena. The world economy is changing. Engineering jobs are either moving to the most highly skilled areas of the world (e.g. Germany) or the cheapest areas of the World (e.g. Asia). There are fewer engineering jobs to go round. America is suffering the same problem which is giving rise to Trump. The best explanation I’ve read is that the blue collar engineering class does not want hand outs, they want jobs. According to Dan Pink, motivation requires Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Our engineering class is given nothing… just social handouts and jobs that will never let them achieve satisfaction. London’s sin has been to assume that paying for the NHS and Welfare for big parts of England was enough. Clearly it is not enough, message received. We need jobs, not McJobs, but real jobs.
The elderly in this country have been lied to and deceived during the Brexit campaign, by both sides. Pensions account for the largest part of the UK budget. Leaving the EU will result in inflation which erodes the value of pensions. Clearly the elderly in the UK are scared of immigrants. Even in my street, the elderly are scared. This is where we need to act. We need to create programs to integrate the elderly into modern communities so that they can live richer more fulfilling lives, lives with less fear.
So lets understand the relationship between London and the rest of England. A few years ago I encountered the Benjamin Franklin Effect. Its a cognitive dissonance that I think helps to explain the relationships between Parents and Teenagers. In effect, we like someone because we do something for them, rather than we like someone because they do something for us. I suspect that the rest of England is resentful of London whereas London likes the rest of England (because that’s where we come from after all). This also explains why Wales and Cornwall voted to leave the EU despite receiving massive support from the EU. They don’t want your money (they need it and resent you for giving it), they want their dignity (and the EUs money takes it away).
So here is a thought. We need to create jobs that have meaning for the rest of England. Lets identify a deprived area of England, and relocate the Government to that area generating jobs to revive the community. How do we pay for this? We simply sell the buildings that the government occupies. The British Government is housed in some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and there is absolutely no reason in the modern age for that to be the case. The houses of parliament can be redeveloped as a museum/leisure centre/theme park for tourists. Once the area is revitalised and if necessary, we move the government again. Perhaps every ten years or so.
I get the feeling I’m reading this completely wrong. Would love to know what I’m missing.
I am proud to be British and European, however Britain is about my past and who I am, and Europe is about my future and the future of my children.I choose to be European for the sake of my children and over the next two years I intend to fight (in the courts if necessary) to remain my European status. If that means London needs to leave Britain, so be it.
*It would be great if the government would make it easier to see how tax is collected and spent.