Wednesday 18 June 2014

Missing London, and why I intend to do more of it

“You must miss this,” my driver said as we sat in a huge traffic jam on the edge of the City of London on Monday.

To our left a bus inched past, leaving just about enough clearance to accommodate a sheet of graphene. To our right assorted Lycra-clad loons on bikes wove gaily in and out of the traffic, scattering pedestrians like confetti.

“Are you trying to be funny?” I asked, thinking fondly of the beauty and tranquillity of the corner of Northumberland where I had just spent the weekend.

I lived in London for nearly 30 years, and have never regretted handing back the keys of my rented flat in 2006. Though I do bitterly regret selling my small stake in the capital’s property market 20 years earlier.

I felt sure things must have peaked, having more than doubled my money on my fourth floor walk-up flat in Earl’s Court in less than five years. I pocketed a magnificent £73,000. Not so long ago I thoroughly depressed myself by checking a property website and finding that it last changed hands for not much short of a million.

Which is, by any standards, utter lunacy. If I were starting my career again, even in an overpaid trade like financial public relations, I could surely never aspire to buy my own home.

The Bank of England faces the uncomfortable challenge of setting interest rates that will dampen the undeniably overheating South East property market without visiting ruin on the rest of us.

It’s quite enough of a challenge maintaining a single currency in a country united by centuries of shared history, language and values, when its regional economies diverge so markedly.

How anyone ever imagined it was going to work satisfactorily across an entity as diverse as the European Union is completely staggering. But then, of course, they never did. The Euro was merely a lever to help achieve the grand objective of building a United States of Europe. Whether for the noble purpose of ensuring peace and prosperity or to allow a small elite to strut the world stage with added swagger I leave to you to judge.

A big fan of the Euro, you may recall, was one Tony Blair: a man still fond of global swaggering. We would be lumbered with the Euro now but for the sterling (in every sense) efforts of Gordon Brown, who deserves to have a statue erected in Kirkcaldy just for this. Even if he was perhaps motivated less by an appreciation of the Euro’s economic insanity than by a determination to deny Tony his desired place in history as the man who abolished the pound.

But, of course, Mr Blair has no need to worry about his place in history. That is assured thanks to Afghanistan and Iraq – and hasn’t that gone well?

Invading Iraq to eliminate non-existent weapons of mass destruction and clamp down on non-existent terrorists, we have managed to put great swathes of the country in the hands of real terrorists of particular savagery. The same brutes we support, oddly enough, when they are fighting the evil dictator Assad in Syria.

When the terror campaign spreads beyond the Middle East, as it surely will, I imagine that it will make rather more impact on life in London and our other great non-UKIP-voting, cosmopolitan cities than it will in the rural backwoods of the north.

Another great reason for all of us to count our blessings and ask just one question whenever we are asked to attend a business meeting in London: why?

If God had intended all our decision-making to be concentrated in one square mile, why would he have allowed us to invent videoconferencing and superfast broadband?

If the latter ever comes to my little hamlet, I’ll hardly ever need to leave the house again. And the cost of extending it would be a tiny fraction of the money we propose to lavish on HS2, to get people to their unnecessary meetings in London a fraction quicker.

Or, for that matter, on unnecessary wars that have achieved the exact opposite of what they were billed as being for, at a human cost that is almost unbearable to contemplate.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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