There has been a lot of debate recently on whether London is getting out of hand, whether England’s capital is leaving the rest of the UK behind. There is not another city in the UK that comes even close to London in terms of size, scale, facilities, or expenditure on public transport or infrastructure. Birmingham is England’s 2nd city yet is miles behind London on pretty much every scale. London will no doubt continue to grow, yet it is worth asking whether its growth compared to other cities in the UK is getting out of hand? And if so, what are the consequences?
I live in Bristol and have friends in various cities throughout the UK. For me, I can go up for a weekend in say, Nottingham, to see mates and have a decent weekend, and then come back home not feeling too depressed with the amount of money I’ve spent. To go and have a weekend with my mates in London, I’d simply have to sell all my worldly possessions, ask the bank for a loan, and maybe then I could afford a night of watered down £4.50 pints. In other words, it increasingly feels like London is a country within itself, separate from the rest of the UK.
The Office for National Statistics claim that London’s population is growing twice as fast as the rest of the UK. This is in part to immigration, foreign workers flood to London in the hope of a better life, and it is now thought that London universities may admit more students from outside the UK than from places in the UK outside London. Many young adults within the UK itself flock to London, they believe it’s where the party’s at, where they are going to hit the big time, you’d never be able to achieve your dreams in a city like Bristol, Manchester, or Liverpool right? This is what many of my peers, and I suspect many other people my age, actually believe. London is the only city that people will half-kill themselves to be a part of, the only city where people will tolerate spending 70% of their wages to live in a box where you can cook and use the toilet at the same time.
In economic terms, London takes up 13% of the British population, yet it is responsible for 22% of British GDP, which means London’s GDP/capita is 1.69. You might be thinking, so? Those are just numbers, yet the only city – in the world – that takes a greater share of national product is Moscow. Basically this helps prove that we are living in a country where national inequality is an issue. People joke about ‘northern scum’ and ‘soft southerners’, yet the divide between the North and South/London will become even more of an issue the more London grows, the more it leaves the rest of Britain behind. There was a period when the economy of the City of London grew by 35%, during the same period the economy of South Wales grew by 3%, and it was a similar trend in all other areas of the country; Cornwall, the Midlands, the North. To me this does not seem like a United Kingdom.
This ties in with the current debate about Scottish independence, it’s not about whether Scotland should be independent from Britain, it’s really about whether Scotland should be independent from London. The SNP has recently highlighted comments from think tank chief Robin McAlpine, ‘London is a suction machine, and as long as we’re tied to a purely City of London financial model of the economy it will keep sucking’. Even UK Business Secretary Vince Cable has branded London a ‘giant suction machine’ that is ‘sucking the life blood out of the rest of the country’. Elites within London argue that things are fine the way they are, and that London getting richer will benefit the rest of the country as there will be a greater fiscal trickle-down effect. How the top 1% think that themselves getting richer will benefit impoverished areas in say, the North-East for example, is laughable really. Shock, rich people want to get richer. It’s not just the economy either, politicians are criticised for spending too much of their time in London, rather than dealing with issues in their constituencies. It’s not called the ‘Westminster bubble’ for nothing.
It cannot be argued that London will keep growing, and that is a good thing, we want the nation’s capital to be a strong one. Yet the problem that has arisen more and more in recent years, is that it is leaving the rest of the country behind. Don’t get me wrong, other British cities aren’t remote villages consisting of confused tribespeople who view London as some scary, uber-modern metropolis, they are bustling and brilliant in their own right. I think more people need to realise this, and stop holding London in such high regard, because I think the more we have a population boom in our capital, the further it will drift away from the rest of Britain.