The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the story has been chosen by Hanna Heiskanen.
The case for an independent London
The debate around devolution in the UK did not end with Scotland voting for staying in the union earlier this autumn. In his article for the Financial Times (“London should break free from Little England”), associate editor Philip Stephens argues that London should acquire independence from the rest of the country and become a mini-state of its own – if one can call a state with an economy about the size of Sweden and with nearly three times as many inhabitants as in Finland small.
Stephens’ case is a strong one, at least when it comes to the figures. In addition to generating a large amount of money, thanks to its financial sector and but also the endless number of tourists flocking in every year, it benefits from much lower unemployment rates and a younger demographic than the rest of the country. Situated by its natural lifeline, the Thames, and surrounded by the orbital M25 motorway, London has natural borders against the home counties. It has modern infrastructure, an entrepreneurial spirit, and boroughs that would ensure local democracy. All in all, London would, most likely, make it on its own.
However, as Stephens points out, London is also different from the rest of the country in the way that capitals often are – through its inhabitants, their values, and their political inclinations. While surrounded by UKIP strongholds, London itself thrives on immigration. Although places such as Windsor and Cambridge are only an hour’s drive from London, spiritually they couldn’t be farther away. And isn’t some sort of sense of shared values and identity considered one of the most crucial building blocks of nationality?
If London were to break away from the UK, what would its new capital be? Manchester would be a strong contender for the role as the next-largest city with its nearly three million inhabitants and an impressive industrial history, and would undoubtedly bring a fresh new focus to North West England. Or, perhaps the country could take an even more revolutionary approach and decentralise its institutions into multiple locations. It would almost certainly help distribute national wealth more evenly and generate a stronger feeling of social cohesion. Surely a win-win situation for all.