Letter From London

1a bobbiesCrooked coppers, soaring house prices, flasher trains – welcome to the UK !

By Tom Aitken in London

As seen from London, 2013 was a strange, turbulent year. But perhaps, in reality it was no stranger or more turbulent than any other.

Where to start? Perhaps with the police. In October, the then Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell was forced to resign after policemen refused to let him cycle through the main gate out of Downing Street, directing him to dismount and push his bike through the pedestrian gate.

There was an altercation. Mr Mitchell, who is both wealthy and an Old Etonian, lost his temper, something he is prone to do, and called them, so the police claimed, ‘plebs’.

Very much more recently, one of the police involved admitted that he had lied. The word ‘plebs’ had not in fact sullied the afternoon air.

Neither side has emerged spotless from the dispute. It is not only members of the Labour Party who believe that Old Etonians (Cameron, Osborne, Mitchell et al) regard everyone schooled elsewhere as inferiors. As ‘plebs’ in fact.

But the admission that the police perjured themselves also gives rise to concern and gets added to a list of falsifications of evidence and of records, which indicate that, in a different way, the coppers also regard themselves as being, because of their caste, above or outside the law.

We are reminded that their account of their shooting of the acknowledged criminal whose death sparked the London riots of 2012 does not entirely add up. And that their arrest of the landlord of a young woman who was horrendously murdered in Bristol in December 2010 (apparently on the grounds that he was a bit of an oddball and had taught in a public school) delayed any further investigation for a considerable period.

When, eventually, they were presented with evidence they could not ignore, the real guilty man was tried and imprisoned. Meanwhile the hapless landlord/weirdo/public school master had been  pilloried by the ‘redtop’ newspapers.

That’s enough about the police and Etonians––to say nothing of the penny-dreadful press.

   Another ‘state of the nation’ issue is rocketing house prices in and near London. I won’t quote figures, since they have probably risen still further since I last looked.

   The issue is of course very troublesome to people who have to work in London, particularly if they are in low paid jobs or ‘between jobs’. It also contributes to the general unpopularity of London so far as the rest of the UK is concerned.

   To simplify: London is the ‘great wen,’ the blot on the face of England’s green and pleasant land. Everyone living in London is on the pig’s back, privileged beyond belief and robbing the rest of the country blind. The place drains the resources out of all other areas in the interest of effete south-easterners.

 London’s counter-claim is that it injects prosperity into some other parts of the nation by feeding out work and trade to suitably placed areas with workers to spare and suitable transport links.

   Which leads me glibly to a tripartite controversy over transport. The first two segments relate to the United Kingdom’s trade internally and with the rest of the world. The first is a planned High Speed Rail Link between London and the still- just-about industrial areas of the Midlands, the North of England and, ultimately, Scotland.

   This is proclaimed as a necessity if the UK is to be at the cutting edge of competition for trading and industrial opportunities in the brave new world that is to come.

The line, assuming it is ever built, will run from Euston,London, to Birmingham, Yorkshire and the Northeast. Businessmen would be whisked in comfort from boardroom to boardroom, arriving fresh and svelte to do their business late morning, and return to their home boardrooms to report that same night.

   ‘What could possibly be wrong with that?’ do I hear you ask? Nothing, probably, except that the actual differences in travelling times between services now and in 2026, when the first trains would run to Birmingham are not going to be huge. A quarter of an hour, perhaps.

   Furthermore, the need for such a line was more convincing when it was first mooted some decades ago. It was actually the case then that time spent travelling was more or less wasted. Now, however, using developments most of us are familiar with, like the internet and smart phones, people on a train, particularly in First Class, might just as well be at their desks.

   One factor causing perturbation is that constructing new railway lines suitable for high speed trains will cost billions of pounds at a time when industrial income has, generally speaking, slumped. (Although, according to some pundits, a mini-boom is under way.

   Also to be considered is the not-in-my-back-yard attitude many people, including the rich industrialists who will supposedly benefit, harbour about noisy mechanical intruders affecting the joy of living in and the market value of their enviable rural properties .

In Berkshire, one of the most sought after residential areas, people do not want high speed trains rushing past their houses every twenty minutes . They do not want new railways and tunnels intruding upon their green fields.

When people may sit in their offices and communicate with any office that wants to hear from them anywhere in the world, what is the point?

    Similar considerations apply to the alleged need for a new runway, at least, or a new airport somewhere in the Southeast. Simply stated, few people whose houses stand under a potential flight path want any such expansion.

Thus those who live near Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead are angrily antagonistic to any further increase in noise.

   On the ground, within London, the big, noisy issue at present is the question of provision for cyclists. A good many of them die each year following encounters with either buses, or mega-lorries with poor sight lines. The roads aren’t wide enough. But, if they all got off their bikes, all the other forms of transport, already uncomfortably overcrowded during the commuting hours, would become more so.

   Those who use other forms of transport, including pedestrians, have their reservations about some of the more aggressive apostles of ‘two-wheels-good, four-wheels-bad’.

Many cyclists ignore laws against not riding on sidewalks  or hurtling up one-way streets in the wrong direction.

Red lights do not, to them signal ‘stop’ but ‘Jump Me! Few of them imperil their aero-dynamic efficiency by fitting bells.

   What is it about all this that reminds me of the former Chief Whip and his encounter with the plebocracy?