Dave Hill: So-called patriots are stepping up their war on London

Dave Hill: So-called patriots are stepping up their war on London

There isn’t much good news about the state of the nation, what with the economy in recession, public services falling apart and the government more interested in limiting electoral damage to the Conservative Party than solving the country’s problems. Be glad the capital city is emerging from the setbacks of Brexit and the pandemic to stop things being even worse.

A survey by the London Property Alliance has shown that foreign investment in the city has been rising. Though its economic growth has flattened of late, London’s productivity remains far higher than that of the rest of the United Kingdom. London continues to raise more in taxes per head of population than any other region, with much of that money spent elsewhere.

But as well as keeping the whole country afloat, London leans strongly towards Labour politically, 37 per cent of its people were born overseas, its directly elected Mayor is a Muslim of foreign heritage and one of its Overground lines has just been named the Windrush in honour of post-war migrants from the Caribbean. For these things and more some think London should be attacked.

The ranks of these culture warriors include ordinary voters in other parts of England who believe the northern grievance myth that they subside Londoners, when the reality is the reverse – like it or not, the economies of other regions would be far weaker without London’s markets and London’s tax export to prop them up.

More absurdly, they also include politicians of the radical right and their many media mouthpieces. Weirdly, given how vital London is to the entire UK’s besieged social and economic wellbeing, not to mention its standing in the world, such people consider themselves patriots.

The Overground christenings threw them into a frenzy. The Telegraph spluttered for days about “multiculturalism” and “woke” and the proper way, old bean, to honour London and its history. I’m in two or three minds about the names myself, partly because I’m not convinced they were needed in the first place. But the fury directed at them makes me rush to their defence.

The names reflect Sadiq Khan’s long-standing desire to see a fuller version of London’s past acknowledged. So what? He hasn’t sought to purge the current, dominant one, much of it focussed on the royal family. He hasn’t carped about the Elizabeth line being so named by Boris Johnson. He hasn’t removed the Queen Elizabeth from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which wasn’t there until his predecessor attached it.

Khan’s Conservative challenger Susan Hall has, following the example of culture warfare’s US founding fathers, denounced the names as “virtue-signalling”, as if heaping endless deference on monarchs isn’t sending its own message about which aspects of Britain’s past should be most revered. What’s so wounding about broadening the canon?

Hall struggles to understand such questions. She is an admirer of the shadowy right wing group that dislikes the National Trust recognising that much of Britain’s ruling class, creators of many of the buildings it cares for, grew rich on the proceeds of slave trading. For Hall, this is not enhancing understanding of British history but “rewriting” it in ways she doesn’t like.

The Express, essentially an extension of Hall’s mayoral campaign, has made up a “story” that Khan has “blocked” Trafalgar Square’s 4th Plinth being used to memorialise the late Queen in favour of “woke art”. The truth is that nobody involved in the many conversations about where and how Elizabeth II should be remembered in the capital thinks that location would be best. A bunch of MPs cried “hear hear!” at the mention of the idea just after the Queen’s death, but that was 18 months ago. Try to keep up, newshounds.

Barely beneath the surface of this agitation there lurks, of course, an ever-festering resentment of Khan’s religion and ethnicity and a belief that these disqualify him from being properly, loyally British or indeed British at all. Like a scab they can’t stop picking, his political enemies return endlessly to the theme, finding any way they can to highlight and exploit it for their own ends. The Tories’ misrepresentation of Khan’s recent comment about antisemitism was as disgraceful as the attempt by party chairman Richard Holden to justify it was pathetic.

And so the war on London escalates. Ever since the 2019 general election and the Tories’ destruction of Labour’s “red wall”, government “levelling up” policy – such as it is – has, by word and deed, sought to level London down. Now, pundit Peter Hitchens, personification of debilitating Merrie England nostalgia, suddenly notices the City of London’s skyscrapers and denounces them as alien – had Hitchens been alive in 1710, he’d have decried St Paul’s as papist. From the dyspeptic innards of 55 Tufton Street come video equivalents of the Bayeux tapestry proclaiming London “lost” to immigrants. The fanatics of GB News gorge on every violent crime to denigrate London as “lawless”, a stereotype not applied to other cities.

Extreme Tory and kindred spirit politicians do the same. And now, Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has been moved to denounce the social media trolling of officers by right wing mobs. Such episodes follow the Telegraph’s shoddy non-story, built on a know-nothing quote from “Boris”, about the Met’s tiny war crimes team fulfilling its obligations to the International Criminal Court.

Having declined to cave in to improper political pressure from Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman over the handling of pro-Palestine demonstrations, the Met and its chief have become prime targets for anti-London forces hoping against slim hope that Hall can cheer them up by ousting Khan from City Hall on 2 May.

The right is not alone in recruiting crude mischaracterisations of London to populist crusades. The Corbyn left has long done the same, brandishing its own version of London as a metaphor for the dark heart of “neoliberalism”, “social cleansing” and so on.

As elections approach, however, it is the Brexit nationalist part of the political spectrum, a space where Tories and Farageists indistinguishably meet, that is agitating hardest against London, seeing it as the home of everything about their country they want gone. It is a strange kind of patriot who hates one of the few things left about Britain that makes it great.

Dave Hill is editor and publisher of OnLondon.co.uk. Support the site and its writers for £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X: OnLondon and Dave Hill.

Categories: Comment


  1. Philip Virgo says:

    London IS foreign. It loaned William of Normandy the funds to conquer the rest of England in return for recognising its ancient rights, acquired when the Vikings moved their slave market from Dublin and agreed not to raid within two days march.

    The boundaries of the City’s trading powers until Victorian. I would have more sympathy for the current Mayor if he were to take action to address modern slavery in some of the immigrant communities today as opposed to gesture politics on what happened before an English court ruled, 250 years ago, that it had no place in common law.

    That judgment was one of the prime causes of the American War of Independence – fought to preserve George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s right to own slaves and steal the land of King George’s native Indian subjects. Nelson’s personal bodyguard at Trafalgar was a freed slave (see him on the plaque at the foot of his column, holding a musket) as were a significant proportion of the rest of the crew and at least one frigate captain (Jack Punch, nickname of John Perkins, the 007 of the day).

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