An Invisible Economic Recovery
Increasingly, the London I read about is not the London I experience.
We’re told, for some years now, that we are in economic recovery. I look across the capital’s roofs at dusk, into zone1 in the distance, and it looks more like an oil field than a city; a skyline dominated by cranes; a city building to the heaven. By all signs, London should be a happy, vibrant, employed, safe, booming place. And yet it is not. None of the glass and steel, none of the wealth those cranes carry, ever reaches the ground.
People seem to me grey, worried, more irritable than ever. Local Bermondsey folks are visibly angry at the gentrification pushing them out of the area in which they were born. I keep seeing glittering residential developments everywhere, but have never met anyone who lives there. I know nobody whose pay has kept up with inflation in the last five years. Any foray to the West End confirms that this entire city subsists on tourism.
In the Prime Minister’s own constituency, the Tory council leader had to write to him to explain the impact of his own cuts. To explain that cuts to the local area are not of the magnitude of £200m, as the PM believes, but three times that at £600m. That a 37% drop in funding is not the “slight fall” the PM seems to think. That an asset sale as a solution is “neither legal nor sustainable in the long term.”
My own local services have been slashed. Refuse collections are occasional and erratic. The roads are in a state of constant disrepair. The youth centre’s hours have been reduced. Care home places are scarce. Local transport service is a shambles; half of the buses counting down on the display turn out to be phantoms. Public toilets have been sold. Local parks are full of people in ill mental health and quite some distress. I see increasing numbers of homeless and – disturbingly – many of them are elderly.
The local Tesco have had to change their policy on reduced-to-clear food, because arguments kept breaking out among customers. Two more businesses closed this month on my fairly small Southwark Park Road parade of shops. Several others are showing distinct signs of struggling. Even the local Co-op is quite obviously in trouble. This has been the pattern since the crisis. About half the high street is now boarded up. And that is only because betting shops and pawn shops have taken the place of some gone shops.
While all this goes on, the political agenda of most news outlets – print, radio or TV – is absolutely dominated by arguments over the angle of a bow or kneeling etiquette. For days and days. The only conclusion available to me is that either by convergence of interest or coercion, there is a clear and collaborative attempt between media and government at significant misdirection. A deliberate and organised campaign to mislead.
The bifurcation between what I experience as a citizen and what the news tells me was easy to miss. It grew very gradually, like hair growing long on someone you see every day. But it is now too wide to ignore. London is not a city in economic recovery. At least my bit of it ain’t. It is in absolute decline. I needed to say that. The Emperor, so far as I can see, is completely naked.
I do not ask that you believe me. I ask that you look around and compare what you see with your own eyes, to the growth narrative being universally pushed down our throat, every hour on the hour like aspirin. That’s all. Just look around.