In his piece on the London mayoral election, Owen Jones surveys the battle ‘between an imperfect Labour candidate and the perfect embodiment of Britain’s booming elite’.
By Richard Elins
As a Scot living in Glasgow, the London mayoral election is not something close to my heart. That being said, I am familiar with London and find multiple excuses to visit the city each year.
There are many civic qualities on display in London. Diversity seems to be celebrated. As a white South Sider I love the exotic street sign script of the Brick Lane area and it is a complaint of mine that Glasgow officialdom does not recognise Pollokshields in comparable fashion. I am an atheist who wants to hear calls to prayer from the Shields mosques.
Whilst expensive, London is also better co-ordinated than other UK cities. Public transport in Glasgow is undermined by the de facto monopoly of First Bus. Sure there are alternatives but the lack of a co-ordinated payment system, like Oyster, stunts competition fairness. Compounding this, the underground in Glasgow is a mere hyperlink between the city centre and the West End. I remember, on a visit to Washington DC, being stunned when reading about the subway design there. In DC the subway is, in aesthetic terms, a tour de force. You descend from street level not into the claustrophobic heat of a subterranean rat race, but instead the ceilings are vaulted over cavernous expanse – there is even a strange and impossible suggestion of daylight. However, the other stunning design aspect was the lack of link between the city and the wealthy Georgetown district. This design decision was to publicly mitigate access of black working class traffic to Georgetown. The Glasgow system is much older but, in 2012, metropolitan subway mobility is a preserve of la gauche caviar in Hillhead. That being said, with fortnightly frequency we are treated to the spectacular juxtaposition of the poetry anthology laden Hillhead postgraduate sharing a subway carriage with Rangers supporters performing the ‘bouncy bouncy’.
Back to London. After thinking more about Owen Jones’ piece I came to the conclusion that Londoners do not have so much to complain about. Their city is well serviced. It is a test bed for good ideas and the priority for public spending. Whether you consider public spending or private philanthropy, London receives disproportionate sponsorship in all areas – arts, transport, you name it.
Moreover, Jones’ complaint is not a London one. His complaint reaches into the fundamentals of left and right and the media relationships in that orbit. Mr Right is upfront about greed and can hardly be called a hypocrite for putting self-interest first. Mr Left is less self-interested, is pro-equality, and generally cares for the condition of society’s weakest members but, under the right-wing microscope, a speckle of impropriety is found and he is suitably denounced. On balance, Mr Left is still the better candidate, but hypocrisy is viewed more dimly than a passion for greed and intolerance of others.
Part of Johnson’s mayoral election campaign is that London should receive more from the UK public purse (see the Financial Times’ report for a laugh/cry). To his mind London is hard done by and fed up subsidising the rest of the UK. This is typically naïve stuff from a man who knows all the fruits of the private sector but none of the toil.
I will use the company I work for as an example to expand on Johnson’s naivety. For fear of unemployment, the company name will not be used. I work for an engineering company which carries out projects globally – I am writing from Equatorial Guinea. The technical skills that constitute this company, and the consequent profits, come largely from Scotland and Norway. You would be mad to deny that these internationally marketable skills were developed through project experiences and innovation in the North Sea since the 1970’s. Yet, the ‘corporate’ headquarters are in Hammersmith. In fact, all the commercial giants of the North Sea (operators and service companies) have a presence in London and list on the London Stock Exchange. Is this the wealth Londoners are missing out on?
There are two central flaws in the Johnson economic argument. Firstly, London acts as a funnel and to a large extent the ultimate vessel, in its economic relationship with the rest of the UK. The wealth is often not created or earned there. The City is merely a final destination. Secondly, much of what is perceived as ‘made’ in London is not made at all. The primary London industry is not industry. Nothingness, with cyclical nonsense, is produced, bought, and sold under the banner of Finance. After 2008 we are acutely aware of the tangible consequences of an industry built from trading fictions. Have we not paid enough for this already? Not according to Johnson.
The UK is unusual in this respect. In so many other countries the relationship between where wealth is created and where it is squandered is clearly understood. Stavanger is never undervalued in Oslo. In Ecuador they have a saying: the money is made in Guayaquil and spent in Quito. In the UK we are duped by Johnson and his millionaire cronies. And, as a journalist of socialist values, perhaps it was a dereliction of duty that Owen Jones did not cover this aspect instead.
I may not sound like it, but I am happy Boris wishes to bring up this economic argument.
I suppose he needs to campaign on something solid – Barclays bikes and the likeable clown-toff strategies of yesteryear will probably not withstand another election. In amongst his economic campaign he is indirectly reigniting the question of Scottish Independence and provincial economic inequality at a time when Cameron has done all he can to distance the question of Independence from economics.
Cameron’s engagement with the Scotland question thus far has been to fabricate a sentimental vision of ‘The Union’. Cameron did not want to be drawn on the matter of Scotland’s wealth generation in Union or independence contexts. The measure of Cameron’s irrelevance to the Scottish people is that he believes he has something to sell – he believes there is a Union product that the Scottish people will buy.
In a stateless nation where Tory inflicted wounds are being reopened with every new cut, Cameron’s ‘we are stronger together’ product is a gambit of desperation. The Scots who have witnessed those streets leading off Hyde Park know all too well where the money is going. With nasty court jesters like Boris Johnson campaigning for even more of our money in an election only Londoners can vote in, has there ever been a better time to hold an Independence referendum?