London is finished. This is the conclusion of a devastating analysis by one of my favourite political commentators Allister Heath – and I’m inclined to agree with him.
The capital is bankrupt, its business model destroyed by shifts in behaviour that may never now be reversed.
This certainly accords with my own observations when I ventured in to town a couple of weeks ago for a coronavirus antibody test. I was tested at the Honourable Artillery Company HQ in the heart of the City of London and the streets were like a scene from 28 Days Later. London’s financial district, which makes up around 3.5 per cent of the total UK economy, was all but deserted.
Had this been the case during the peak of lockdown, I would haven’t have been surprised. But this ghost town scenario happened after the lockdown was officially over: City firms which could have insisted that their employees came back to the office were apparently content to have them remain at home — either on furlough or working remotely. What at first seemed like a temporary measure is starting to look as if it might be the new normal.
As Heath says, “the longer workers stay at home, the less likely they are ever to come back fully.”
Well indeed. If you are an employer looking to cut costs why pay the overheads of office rental and heating when your staff can just as effectively work from home instead?
There’s only one reason that London can command such hefty property prices and rental value: it’s where the work is. Around 22 per cent of the UK economy is London-based. Workers will pay a premium to live reasonably near their office because it saves on commuting time. But if their office is no longer there, why would they wish to live in a cramped, polluted, expensive, crime-ridden city when for much less money they can live in the country with more room space and a larger garden?
The other main reason people like living in the big city, especially when they’re younger, is for the buzz: the clubs, the bars, the restaurants, the concentration of potential sexual partners. But if the office hubs go, so will the workers. This, in turn, will mean there are fewer patrons for the pubs and clubs, leading to a spiral of decline. London could potentially become another Detroit: a once vast and thriving metropolis made redundant by the death of its core industries.
Then, of course, there’s the other factor in London’s decline: Mayor Sadiq Khan.
If this were an apocalyptic movie, like say, The Omega Man, Khan would be the leader of the evil mutants who take over the city after all the humans have disappeared and only Charlton Heston is left.
Cynical, race-baiting, politically-correct, anti-prosperity, anti-freedom Khan is emblematic of a phenomenon which is devastating the Western world’s cities from Britain to the U.S., from Australia to Canada and beyond. Neo-Marxist hucksters like Khan really aren’t interested in making these cities desirable places to live. They’re about draining every last drop of blood from the city they can before the place finally expires.
Heath puts this well:
Sadiq Khan has accelerated his own demise by hyping the risks of public transport but his likely reelection next year will mean nothing. His power – other than to infuriate the Tory minority in London by tolerating graffiti, hiking the congestion fee, shutting roads and cutting the police – has evaporated.
As the wealth creators — the Tory minority — sell up and move out, so London will drift inexorably leftwards and turn into San Francisco or Portland or Seattle or any a number of other similarly moribund cities with socialist administrations.
Even so, London could probably have survived Sadiq Khan. What has truly killed off London, though, is the incompetence of one Khan’s mayoral predecessors – a blond by the name of Boris.
If Boris Johnson had given up politics after his two terms as Mayor of London, he would probably have got away with it. We’d remember him as the amusing chap who hosted the successful 2012 Olympics and put his name to the Boris Bike and who entertained us with stunts like getting stuck on a zip wire.
Instead, when the history is written, he is going to go down – among other things – as the Prime Minister who cancelled London.
It’s not as though he wasn’t warned about this. True, the people saying that the lockdown was a mistake were in a minority in the beginning and probably are so even now. But for months commentators have been talking about the dire economic consequences which will accrue as a result of keeping the nation under house arrest but on 80 percent of their pay. Now their predictions are coming true. Too many people have got too comfortable with staying at home, not having to commute to work. Too many people have had the fear of God put in them by the government’s Covid-scare propaganda operation and now equate going back to work with near-certain death.
Presumably, this was the thinking behind Boris’s new compulsory-masks-in-shops policy: a ruse to persuade all those trembling Covid bedwetters that if they returned to work there’d be no horrid, dangerous people with nasty, breathy, uncovered mouths waiting to give them the deadly plague.
But all it’s going to do is stoke up the public’s fear, not allay it. Ubiquitous masks are hardly the symbol of a country beginning to recover from a pandemic, are they?
Boris’s problem — and by extension, London’s and indeed Britain’s problem — is that he is a fundamentally unserious person. In his Wooster-ish way, he thinks there’s no crisis so insurmountable that it can’t be brushed away with a toss of his Princess Diana hair, a coy smile and a witty metaphor.
Sometimes, though, a crisis requires rather more than that. It requires courageous, principled leadership of a kind Boris is quite incapable of providing.
There is only one way Boris could save London from the economic disaster his coronavirus policy has inflicted on it. Taking his cue from the experiences of Sweden, he could come clean and admit that his government overreacted to Covid 19, and that in light of the latest evidence – that it’s no deadlier than bad seasonal flu; that most healthy people who get it will experience fairly mild or non-existent symptoms; that many more people have antibodies than was previously understood — Britain now intends fully to reopen for business with no lockdown, no compulsory masks, no social distancing, in order to pursue the herd immunity strategy it should have stuck to throughout.
But no politician, least of all one as slippery and desperate to be liked as Boris would dare make so frank an admission. So instead, we’re going to have to add arguably the world’s greatest city to the long list of casualties of this government’s coronavirus mismanagement.
Oh, and just to rub salt into the wound, we’re still going to be on the hook for the £200 billion-plus it’s going to cost to build Boris’s white elephant project HS2 – the trainline carrying all those imaginary commuters to the depleted city where no one wants to work any more.