Independence for London? No — don’t turn our backs on the Remainers of England
A day on, it doesn’t feel any better. But hey, I’m a Londoner, and London voted to stay in the EU. My borough voted to stay in the EU. Hey, my council ward voted to stay in the EU. One of the few smiles to come on that awful Friday morning was from seeing Boris Johnson’s Islington home besieged by angry Londoners. So we’re alright, yeah?
London declaring independence has always been one of my favourite “what if” discussions. It has been since Time Out ran a cover feature on it in the 1990s. Could it work? Heaven knows.
Brexit is the sound of chickens coming home to roost, the inevitable result of generations of UK politicians, grimly clinging onto an over-centralised state, sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the vast gulfs opening up in England.
One of the most depressing aspects of the London mayoral election — before the furore over the Tory campaign’s tactics — was seeing candidates jostle over which idea they could lobby government with, rather than ideas that could actually implement themselves.
Westminster politicians banging on about the £15bn Crossrail project isn’t going to go down well in a country where it costs nearly £20 to go 35 miles from Manchester to Barnsley, where millions still have to use knackered bus-trains that should have been retired years ago.
London should have had the freedom to fund Crossrail on its own instead of having to go begging to Westminster for £4.7bn which could have been spent in areas where the need for investment — in homes, infrastructure and industry — is more urgent. The same applies to the even-costlier Crossrail 2 scheme, which has depended on the Treasury more than City Hall.
Instead of sorting out a proper devolution settlement for London, the seeds of resentment were sowed — with the capital used as a convenient scapegoat by northern Labour MPs. So when the referendum result threw up Brexit, it was understandable that Londoners would fight back, no?
Well, yes, but smug animations like the one above don’t help.
Manchester voters voted to remain by 60.4%, Trafford’s by 57.7%. Remain won in Liverpool with 58.1%. Bristol posted 61.7% for Remain, Brighton & Hove scored a stonking 68.6% for Remain. Do a small portion of Londoners really want to abandon these great cities to to a diminished Little England?
And let’s not forget four out of 10 Londoners wanted to walk out of the EU — the Leave campaign winning in boroughs mainly comprised of people who, like me, were born in the capital. (Think Bexley or Havering don’t count as “London”? You’re not helping.)
In themselves, boroughs disguise huge variations. Unusually, my own borough of Greenwich — for Remain overall, by slightly more than I expected— published a ward breakdown revealing a borough that was actually deeply divided. If other boroughs had done the same, there might be less crowing.
But the prime fact is this was a national referendum. Every vote was equal, and every voter must take responsibility for their own choice. National reconcilliation may be some way off.
Yes, the capital’s status within a disintegrating Union and an unbalanced England needs an urgent review, and the referendum result is a reminder of that.
But across England, there are people feeling angry, bruised and frightened about the future, just as you may be in London.
If we’re to resist what comes next, or make the best of a bad lot, we’ll need to work together. The stranded Remainers of England need London’s solidarity, not our scorn.