(14) London: a model city, attractive to many - but changing

On 15/03/2013, the London Mayor Boris Johnson defended on a French radio station the City bankers’ bonuses, claiming Europe’s attack on bankers was a distraction from the real problem (i.e. loss of confidence in the euro), claiming the cap on bonuses would “pick on London” and could inflame British feelings against the EU. I do not agree and claim the opposite as I will argue below, although for a short time he may be right.

London, my beloved one

London, what do I love you, with your mix of people: black, white, Asian, gay, straight, asexuals, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists and whatever other believes. People can go out all over the city having fun every hour of the day and night and whatever fun they like while nuisances are quite limited as it is well organised where and when things can happen (e.g. closing hour in areas where people live, and people accept them). Londoners can go shopping day and night. The mix of people is amazing and people can wear whatever they like as there were enough jobs available for each different individual.

E.g. in many bars there is a good mixture of black, Asian and white people and after work people in suits talk with people in T-shirts and jeans, young and old all together (I think because of the closing hour) while in many other countries people mix less (e.g. in Belgium many young people go out after 11pm to their own bars so they don’t have to mix with (older) people who work the next day). Of course, not all bars are mixed, allowing something for everyone. And each council has its own bars and shops, while elsewhere these are mostly concentrated in only a few area such as a centre, resulting in overcrowded places while boredom elsewhere.
Notting Hill Carnival - Great mixture of people of different colours and ages.
One of the reasons of this social mix was because each neighbourhood was forced to provide social housing so everyone had a chance to live even in "posher" and more wanted districts. Further, “essential” workers such as teachers and nurses received reductions when buying their first property so they were able to live close to work while people were still willing to do those jobs.

Apart from this great mixture with much individual freedom, in general people are well-behaved: e.g. they wait at the side (and not in front) when doors of carriages of public transport open so people can get out before boarding themselves; they stand on the right on escalators so people can pass on the left; often they don’t jump queues and they mostly stop before traffic lights, even when orange.

Problems and consequences

Unfortunately, recently problems emerged. Religious extremists of all kinds are trying to destroy this mixture because they are mad and think that doing evil is doing good. Years ago, the day after London celebrated the victory of winning the competition to host the Olympics, four extremists killed innocent people while a few years earlier a man placed three bombs, killing during one attack three people in a gay bar, including a pregnant woman. In doing so, they try to destroy little by little the good that is London. To be honest, these problems are at this moment much more urgent in other countries.

But, not only religious fundamentalists are a problem, also the economic fundamentalists. On 9/11/2001, the religious extremist Osama bin Laden tried to destroy the economic foundations of the western world by attacking its economic power houses in America. But while he failed to destroy the financial system, a few years later the financial world almost managed to bring its own system to its knees and even today it continues to destroy itself from within.

Because of these economic fundamentalists (who I regard as bad leaders who reward themselves too much in comparison with many of their staff who receive much less; who make “tough” decisions such as reducing wages and firing people so profits can continue to increase and thus they can pay themselves even larger bonuses), London becomes too expensive for many people. Due to the increasing numbers of rich people from all over the world who continue buying or renting houses and thus prices continue to increase, many ordinary people start having difficulties living in the city and some start to leave (although at this moment more people are still moving to London in the hope of finding work). This also happens in other big cities such as e.g. Madrid where some years ago many Latin-Americans abandoned their car near the airport because they intended not to return due to job shortages. But London is becoming worse because its politicians invite wealthy people to leave their struggling country where taxes increase and to live in London that is promoted as a paradise for the wealthy.

As usual during big crises, people become angry with foreigners, blaming them for taking their job, for increased house prices and for spreading terror, certainly when even the government starts to blame certain immigrants, claiming they are only coming to get benefits. Also people without children are often targeted (in smaller companies) when people are fired, not because the boss is against people without children but because jobs are first given to people who need to feed children (large companies often fire indiscriminately as they don't know their own employees).

However, often it take some time before people acknowledge that the main problems are:
(1) economic fundamentalists who destroy jobs by wanting more wealth for themselves and buying properties as investment so house prices continue to increase (although many people do not consider this is a problem when they try to sell their own house until they start looking for something else) and
(2) religious fundamentalists who don’t want to live with any person who does not share their way of life.
These fundamentalists are basically the same type of people: both want to control others while they try to bend the rules for their own advantage.

Of course, this does not apply to all wealthy people. E.g. the Rockefellers understood that too much wealth destroys its owners and thus they created jobs or opened museums and universities so other people would also benefit from their wealth while today, many wealthy people use money for their own fun and thus do no longer generate wealth for others. E.g. people can refuse bonuses so companies can use the money to save jobs of colleagues (or maybe their own job). Similarly, most religious people are not fundamentalists who want to kill. But in both cases, normal wealthy and religious people should speak against respectively the economic and religious fundamentalists.

Prostitute, gods and idols

I think London becomes more and more like a prostitute almost everyone wants to try, still who reduces her wages for the rich in the hope more wealthy clients will come while increasing her prices for ordinary people as she can't satisfy everyone. London attracted people from all over the world who escaped tyranny or came in the hope to find work and a better life (even cleaning streets or working as nurse); thus many were political or economical refuges. These people worked and paid taxes, contributing to the wealth of London and the country as a whole. But these days she no longer welcomes them unless they are rich; she reduces taxes for the latter while increases the cost for everyone else to compensate (e.g. public transport).

Many politicians no longer demand all citizens obey the same rules. Many politicians wonder how to behave in such a way newspapers will support them so that they can remain in power. Furthermore, politicians promise tax cuts for the rich in the hope those people will leave their own countries, countries in need for the rich to pay taxes to help reduce public debts (e.g. during the French presidential election London told the rich in France they would be welcomed if they would decide to leave France if the country would increase taxes for the rich and thus London stimulated the wealthy to abolish their own struggling country (some French politicians called his offer that of a drunken man)).

Because of tax cuts for the rich, London receives less money but hopes the rich (and ordinary people with money) will compensate by buying many (expensive) houses and thus house prices continue to rise. Of course, the rich have fun but how much contributes the partying of a few to the wealth of a country if ordinary people, large in number and whose taxes remain relatively high or even increase, can’t go out any longer and thus can’t support their local pub that may go bankrupt because banks no longer want to help a failing pub? Many politicians obey the rich when they demand shorter and lower unemployment benefits to reduce deficits while the powerful sack people who are less likely to find work due to job shortages and then the powerful blame the unemployed for being lazy while they demand benefits from countries so their bank is saved. Of course, benefit fraud should be stopped but when so many people loose their jobs, one can’t blame people are too long unemployed. Instead, one should think about redistribution of work so more people can work. This will allow more time for families and friends and prevent burnouts but can only happen when large bonuses are stopped and used to employ people.

Many politicians in London do whatever the powerful ask, some in the hope to gain from them but many because they are afraid of their powers as the wealthy threaten to leave. This is not only in London, but here it is worse as politicians try to prevent any European decision to get control because they fear London's financial institutions may leave. It is as if the city (= London) worships the City (= financial centre) and its wealthy as gods while their money and buildings are idols and temples and thus whatever the powerful ask is given to please them out of fear of loosing their favour.

But do these gods respect the city for her worship? Not at all, these gods even consider the politicians weak and not worth any respect. E.g. Rupert Murdoch demonstrated this before the Leveson Inquiry when he recalled his meetings with PMs. Thus, gods are symbols of powerful people while idols are money, power and status. And they became so powerful that they can bring down companies and even countries. Do not misunderstand me: ambition is important to make progress. But progress seems to come to a halt when some people worship too much their income so that investments in progress stop dye to lack of money.

People become angry and may want to smash the gods and idols

The behaviour of the city makes people angry as we saw last summer in London (although also in other countries people are angry). As I mentioned above, social mixture in London was forced upon society in the past, but this all started to change since PM Thatcher sold many social houses. The present government capped the amount of money given to people on benefits to live in a house. Of course, it is not correct when people live in very expensive house paid by society but then governments should provide cheap housing for the poorest of society. Instead, last month people protested against the introduction of the so-called “bedroom tax" that limits welfare payments to households considered to have more rooms than they need (e.g. it is considered parents with two children under 10 only need two bedrooms as even brother and sister should sleep in the same room. And thus families are forced to move to more expensive houses or their benefits are reduced. What when the children become older than 10? Should the family move again? Because otherwise the government may penalise the parents for allowing adolescents of opposite sex sleep together. Similarly, numbers of students declined at universities because how many can afford £27,000 tuition fee, spread over 3 years, plus rent and food and study material when parents fear loosing their job? A third example: people on benefits are forced to work in companies to gain experience (back-to-work schemes) while the government agrees no minimum wages need to be paid. Of course, then it is only normal companies start firing people so they can employ jobless people who are paid with benefits. Still, companies complain those people receive benefits. And many of these examples are now introduced in other countries to cut expenditure.

Instead of trying to understand the reasons for the anger of people, the government declared these people are the enemy as they criticise the bonuses and thus entrepreneurship and thus they proof they are against work. Do not misunderstand me, I do not agree with looting but I understand why people start doing it. When society becomes too unbalanced these things happen (read e.g. Charles Dickens). And the government becomes very cynical (always dangerous) as they now even portray a person of poorer background who killed six of his children as an example why welfare needs to reform, as if only people on benefits kill their children. Of course, excesses should not be tolerated and reform is not always bad except when it is to reduce benefits of less than £100 a week, certainly when further tax reductions are given to the wealthy. Most of us understand why revolutions happened in the past but few understand why people today may riot.

But on a larger scale, London makes other countries angry because countries notice their own wealthy people leave for the rich city as poorer countries can’t afford to reduce their taxes; on the contrary, these countries are forced to increase taxes for ordinary people to pay their debts to people now living in the rich city. E.g. people in Cyprus are losing their savings to rescue banks and reduce public debts. This money returns to banks in other countries, of which the largest in London, and thus bankers can continue paying themselves ever bigger bonuses. And the anger is directed towards the EU who indeed imposed this. But it was also the EU who made an attempt to cap the bankers’ bonuses while politicians in London try to prevent this (including Mayor Johnson). And one day the eyes of people may open and then they may direct their anger towards London who tries to block every European reform of the banking sector.

Even other cities in the country of the wealthy city become jealous of London because they receive so much less and notice that most of the wealth of the country is in one city while they become poorer due to the financial crisis. Some years ago Londoners started to ask the question whether they should continue paying taxes for poorer areas, but now the rest of the UK starts to question whether London may be the reason why other regions develop slower. As long as life is cheaper in other areas, it doesn't matter people earn less. But people from the big city start buying houses in other areas, thereby increasing amongst others house prices.

Thus, London starts to become the enemy of everyone except the rich. One can also compare London with the popular guy who attracts all the girls. He is also popular with the other guys as they hope to benefit from being his friend. But as soon as the guy wants all the girls for himself, the other guys become jealous and drop him as he is no longer of any use to them and thus he ends without male friends. As he is no longer the popular guy, the girls drop him too because who wants to be the girlfriend of a looser?

As I already mentioned above, many of these powerful people despise this city because they find her dirty and her politicians weak while too many people annoying. As long as the city does what they demand and continue giving favours to the rich, they will continue living there and make themselves wealthier. But the moment the city will ask them for favours (e.g. reduce tax reductions or cap bonuses to save her own wealth), they may abandon her for another place that will receive them. Indeed, London has become as a prostitute who give benefits to her clients to keep them. But, many may neglect and abolish her when they no longer need her.

And the people who really love her? They may have left because she became too expensive as she neglected them. Then those who bought houses may find there are too few people left to rent them while bars are empty and the city has become boring. And then she may shrink and sink into normal proportions or less as so many cities before. Then, people in many countries may feel relieved she is no longer important because the rich will no longer run towards her but may return to their own mother country.

She was and still is my love and I miss her

She was and still is a great city for many people, who attracted people from poorer backgrounds, both from within the country and abroad as she protected the latter when they were prosecuted in their own country or gave them a chance to work; she allowed people from all backgrounds to become important whenever people were good in their job. She even encouraged people with skills such as nurses to leave their own poor country to work in jobs British didn't like to do while they could use the most modern of techniques. This was in contrast to many other countries where people mistrusted foreigners and didn’t give them a chance.

But today even the PM thinks foreigners only come for the benefits, not for work, and thus he promises tougher actions against those who come although he still welcomes the wealthy. Also tougher actions are taken against those who have no job, whether because of the economical crisis or ill-health as they are all considered to be lazy.

Let us hope her politicians will turn back to the people living in the city but also to the people living in the rest of the country and world and thus that they take their responsibilities, i.e. to help those who are in need of help without allowing people to take advantage of her so people will respect her and her laws. That the politicians support other countries to tackle misbehaviour of large companies.

Let us hope wealthy people love her enough to prevent her from her possible downfall by sacrificing some of their own wealth to help others find acceptably paid work by creating new opportunities or redistributing jobs and thus wealth.

But I fear many people in the city forgot how hard it sometimes is to find a job; in past decades many people in London didn’t even know what it means not being able to find a job. Therefore, I fear many people will agree benefit cuts are needed because they hear each day that countries and companies go bankrupt because the poor are too expensive. Until more people will loose their job and their benefits if they can’t find a job and people start to understand how difficult it can be to find work.

And thus I fear we are in a downward spiral that can only be broken when all of us accept we have to change the way we live: all of us have to pay our taxes to allow governments govern their country and provide opportunities; we cannot accept benefit fraud (including giving money to banks with no warranties for better behaviour) because this decreases the income of governments while society should help those who are in a worse position than us, including giving benefits when needed but also trying to help people find work (and that does not mean that people have to work for free in the name of gaining experience because in reality that is another name for slavery).


Pascal said…
An article about New York discussing similar problems as described above, i.e. the city becomes too expensive for many people who gave it its character and thus people may start leaving. One of the problems are house prices rising for people who want to live in the city while those who are able to buy flats often don't live there, although of course many do as they love the city or have to work there (but hate the overcrowded streets and traffic).

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