Regular readers of this blog will by now be more than aware that we at Mediolana harbour a deep sense of attachment towards our city of incorporation. Nevertheless, we are not blind to at least some of its darker realities, and the news that the financial, legal and cultural capital of not just the United Kingdom but arguably Western Europe has suffered biological leakage to the tune of over 80,000 people in a single year does not remotely surprise us.
It is all too easy – and logical – to point the finger at the Brexit ‘decision’ and ‘process’ for this decline. But this allocation of blame is ultimately unsatisfactory, and fails to recognise the deeper, structural problems which have needlessly blighted life in London for far too long; in particular, if the following deficiencies continue to remain unaddressed, one of the most iconic urban areas anywhere in the world could slide into a permanent population recession:
- Bad value. The most obvious issue confronting London today is that it offers sensationally awful value for money when to comes to the bare necessities. Specifically, the cost of both public transportation and housing – neither of which are world-class, taken as a whole – is nothing less than an insult to the intelligence. Most people can only take so much of this before they begin to wonder whether there might not be a better way of doing things.
- Zero capitalism. Connected to (1), municipal and city-wide authorities alike have lost sight of the need of industry for reasonably-priced land and buildings. As copiously demonstrated in metropolitan units from Berlin to Barcelona, the manufacturing and creative industries of the future can flourish in unlikely locations – as long as they are not smothered by anti-competitive rent-seekers.
- No time this time. Compounding it all is a profound sense of time-and-motion sickness: in the insane rush to get to wherever it is they think they are going, Londoners – especially, though not exclusively, those in the professional classes – are readily exchanging quality of life for that extra bit of speed and purported glitz. Friendships, relationships and transcendence have been swapped for an even-faster smartphone. But the messages on the screen are getting increasingly contentless.
As regular readers of this blog will by now doubtless be aware of, while we at Mediolana devote a fair amount of space to covering political developments across the globe, we tend to confine ourselves to observations on the bigger picture: the global financial crisis; the Arab Spring; the rise of China, the BRICS/BRICIS and the emerging markets – in short, the macro trends which matter. We do not usually take too much notice of ‘routine’ elections in relatively stable European democracies unless there is something about them which is truly worthy of comment – and this year’s parliamentary contest in the United Kingdom is exactly that, and not for the reasons that you might imagine.
Forests have been felled in noting the sharp demarcation between the two main parties – Conservative and Labour – and their respective leaders, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn; moreover, this observation is indubitably accurate. Voters are being offered a choice between a low(ish) tax pseudo police state with seemingly sub-sexual sadist tendencies and a high(er) tax ‘retro’ social democracy with shades of the Second Coming – and given the general public’s recent proclivity for engendering erratic electoral outcomes, all bets are off as to what they might end up choosing.
But after some contemplation, we think that there are three deeper reasons why this particular election is worth analysing:
- Austerity question marks. The electoral discourse has revealed a profound disillusionment with the austerity status quo – and frankly, this is understandable. The 2007- global financial crisis was an historic opportunity to transition advanced economies to a more sustainable financial and ecological architecture by increasing the price of money and reallocating the many trillions of dollars spent on counterproductive wars to social spending and sovereign wealth funds. Instead, indiscriminate, cruel and in fact literally fatal squeezes on essential public services have been imposed with no sign at all of any concomitant debt reduction; this is now in the process of being rejected in the UK.
- Establishment disenchantment. The sheer cynicism and lack of deference – at least on the part of the broader public – towards such institutions as the ruling party, the prime minister and even so-called ‘deep state’ entities has been extremely apparent; interestingly, the two bizarre and tragic terrorist episodes that have happened during the election campaign seem only to have intensified this distancing when precisely the opposite effect would have been observed in decades past. And one of the few things that could remedy this – a decisive economic upturn which is felt by the majority of the citizenry – does not appear to be on the cards anytime soon.
- Professional angst. The eerily unequal and arguably inequitable British economy seems to have stung public sector workers into a level of political awareness and organisation not seen thus far in the twenty-first century: teachers, nurses, doctors and university lecturers have suddenly (re)discovered a sense of class consciousness, with a stunning 54% of the final group expressing a preference for the Labour Party in a recent Times Educational Supplement poll. Again, if they do not see a significant improvement in their slice of the fiscal pie, this kind of discontent has the power to shift the electoral – and ultimately the societal – landscape far beyond what might or might not happen later today.