For economic and social liberals, there couldn’t be a better place in the world to live and work than dynamic, diverse London.
For Conservatives like George Osborne and Boris Johnson, London is an inspiration – the embodiment of the vision they have for the rest of the country. In fact, what we see taking shape is a new political ideology – ‘Londonism’ – a small state, deregulatory take on metropolitan liberalism.
Londonism is too corporatist to be properly libertarian; too disdainful of tradition to be authentically conservative. Basically it’s all about building Dubai or Shenzhen in a democratic, plural society.
Would Londonism make for an attractive political offer? There’s reason to think that it might not. Consider the following from Barbara Speed in the New Statesman:
“Urban Audit, a branch of the European Commission tasked with assessing the ‘attractiveness’ and ‘quality of life’ of European cities, has released the results of its 2012 Perception Survey. It asked people in 79 cities, including 6 in the UK, about their satisfaction with everything from their cities’ healthcare to its public spaces. It then used this data to put together average satisfaction levels on 12 different issues for each city.”
Overall, the six British cities did OK:
“If you take an average of those 12 percentages for UK cities, they on the whole turn out to be ‘pretty satisfied’ – all six fall in the 75-85 per cent range. They’re certainly doing better than Athens, which has an average satisfaction rate of 42 per cent.”
But of the six British cities, London came last – its inhabitants feeling the least satisfied with its “schools, sports facilities, health services, and pollution and noise levels.” Crime and housing were other major concerns.
Clearly, for all of its prosperity and cultural richness, London has a major quality of life problem. In this regard the controversy over the siting of new airport capacity will be a major test of political priorities. Ministers will either be swayed by the claimed economic benefits of expanding Heathrow or the certain disbenefits of all that extra congestion, noise and air pollution on the lives of ordinary Londoners.
But might the compensation of living in a global city outweigh the specific inconveniences? Apparently not:
“…researchers asked the question ‘are you satisfied with the place where you live?’, offering respondents the chance to say they liked their city despite its crime and pollution, Londoners were still the most dissatisfied in the UK – 82 per cent said they were satisfied, which sounds OK, but it places London ahead of only 17 European cities, and behind 51. The median satisfaction level for Europe was much higher, at 92 per cent.”
There is a massive opportunity here for Britain’s other cities. As George Osborne has repeatedly argued, strategic infrastructure investments – such as those set out in yesterday’s visionary One North report – could realise the North’s full economic potential. However, the real prize is to combine enhanced prosperity with the stronger sense of belonging and higher quality of life that smaller cities can offer.
Meanwhile, back in the Great Wen, Conservatives would do well to remember that London isn’t just a global hub for business and entertainment, but also home to millions of people.