London party

Jack Brown: London On The Line – capturing the city that stereotypes hide

Upcoming Radio 4 documentary challenges contemporary anti-London attitudes

I have been deeply interested in the increasingly fractured relationship between London and the rest of the UK for some time. As a lifelong Londoner, I am aware that the capital has its faults, but I also know that many perceptions of the city that have become increasingly present in the national debate are simply inaccurate. It grinds my gears. And the question matters more and more as London enters a period of real challenge where bashing the capital has become opportune for all political parties.

The rationale for the BBC Radio 4 documentary I made was the tenth anniversary of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, when London represented Britain to the world. Boris Johnson was Mayor of London and proudly celebrated the capital’s importance to the UK. Shortly after the Games, Johnson urged the government not to spread the London “jam” too much across the country. He said the best path to national prosperity was to put more “jam” into it.

How things have changed. After the Westminster and Wandsworth councils were taken over by Labor last week, a Tory ‘source’ told the reporter Lucy Fisher that the party’s success in the capital “will only reinforce the idea in the eyes of working-class people that they are now the party of the metropolitan elite, of the Remainers”. There are no workers or Leave voters in the capital, of course…

In fact Labour, although advancing overall, lost as many councils in the capital as they gained. But the source’s comment spoke to a caricature of London and Londoners – a belief that ‘real people’ live elsewhere and that the capital is populated by disconnected elites who are, in one way or another, inexplicably in charge of everyone.

It is this point of view that the documentary sought to challenge. To do this, we walked around my home district of Waltham Forest, from a parish hall in Highams Park to the Islamic Association of Waltham Forest on Lea Bridge Road. We visited Gleaner’s Café on Hoe Street and swung to a self-help group food stall just around the corner from my house.

Throughout, we encountered Londoners who, far from being exclusively ‘Rich Remainers’, were patriotic, parochial, devout, poor or precarious – interesting, caring and even friendly people. Would you like that? There’s some studio time with pundits like Cathall adviser Naheed Asghar, Rotherham chief Chris Read, Center for London’s Nick Bowes and former campaign adviser to Boris Johnson Mayor Jo Tanner. And, of course, we visited the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where, to ensure that the metropolitan liberal elite was well represented, we met About Londonis Dave Hill. (You’re completely fired: Ed).

Inevitably, many conversations with fascinating people didn’t make it into a half-hour show, but we did capture a part of London hidden in stereotypes.

London On The Line airs on BBC Radio 4 on Monday May 16 at 8 p.m. and is rebroadcast on Wednesday May 18 at 11 a.m. Picture from the BBC.

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