An Open letter to David Aaronovitch about his column about London devolving from the rest of the UK

Dear David,


I have long admired you from a  distance without agreeing with you on several issues but still hold dear your days as a Manchester University student when you rebelled on University Challenge as the Manchester team that refused to answer questions ‘properly’ as a protest against the stupid idea that Oxford and Cambridge get so many free rides in the contest by being able to enter separate colleges- it may have seemed a trivial protest but says lot about the privilege that bogs down this country and sort of leads up to what my open letter to you is about…


Today I saw you column about London devolving from the rest of the UK, picking up recent columns.


And whilst some of my fellow northerners would be quite happy to see this happen, I think it’s either a deliberately comical idea or one that is there to raise the blood pressure of a few readers and to get a round of applause at London dinner parties.


‘We live in medieval times- fast cars they cannot deny this…’ as someone once sang is fast coming true,  not only are there some vile looking middle ages diseases on the horizon but there your growing call in the north London chattering classes for the capital city to cut the rest of the country loose and go it alone.


The callers very generously say that they want open borders and will let us warty provincials into their new city state and will even allow their nannies and workers to pop in for the day. They may even form all alliance with other new city states like Leeds and Manchester- like some sort of modern Hanseatic League.


There have been a few reports alluding to this recently, which sparked your interest. You have then have added the toxic surge of UKIP in the recent local elections which has given you this vision of the hell of the sharing the UK full of UKIP voters and how the ungrateful swine need to be sawn off from the super liberal capital city but that is sort of remolding the truth in many ways.


Manchester and many other towns and cities in the UK are hardly UKIP strongholds and chunks of London voted for the BNP- and London is a city whose mayor Boris is at least sympathetic on some levels with UKIP. These local elections you refer to were a patchwork affair held in random various places across the country and not really a barometer of what the country was thinking.


David, your column in the TImes, which I’m guessing was semi humorous and was called ‘Faragery not Brussels threatens London: why the cities should secede from Ukopia. Unshackle London from the backward shires’ cited polling evidence on the capital’s different attitude to issues like immigration and Europe to other parts of the country.


You mentioned the London Commission, chaired by Tony Travers, which recommended the devolution of tax-raising powers the capital, and you say that the threat is from “Ukopia”, not Brussels- these are very broad brush strokes indeed and quite patronising to the serfs toiling in the fields as you rush past them on the high speed trains and back to the 21st century of London or the ‘other cities’ allowed into this brave new world.


Many of these serfs, when they have put the donkeys to bed have little time for Farage as well, and to many of them, UKIP feels like the very establishment London party it claims that it is not – a rich man’s plaything for Herne in Kent born Nigel Farage who had a very London work background.


David, your column seems to reflect a growing contempt for the rest of the UK by our capital city. Already this morning I have had twitter exchange with someone who sounded like Toby Young with a hangover- it probably was not him but it felt like that kind of person unique to our wonderful capital city- the kind of person who looks down their nose at the rest of the UK and sees it as some kind of burden- a 21st century white man’s burden maybe?


I guess it has become a so called burden because all the sweat and toil and cash of the industrial revolution seems to have been drained away into certain parts of the SE corner of this green and ghostly land. The reason that London thinks that is can afford to go it alone is because it has all our wealth stolen from the industrial chimneys and then from the glorious empire-although it doesn’t even spread this around its own people that evenly and there are far poorer areas in the capital city than I’ve seen anywhere else.


Oh and don’t get me on that anti London thing- I am anything but. I may have been born in Blackpool but my father is from Poplar in the east end of London and I don’t feel the need to flag wave for anywhere- I love living in Manchester and I love going to London and I love playing gigs in Doncaster, Derby, Newport, Wakefield or anywhere in the UK- these smaller towns have their magic as well- go and have a look some day.


Of course to complain about such a notion of the rich having their own capital city colony is to be labeled ‘chippy northerner’ which is an interesting expression that gives away so much more about the exclaimer than the intended victim. This is the idea that northerners should shut up and doff their trusty caps and go and tend their pigeons and is so ancient that even we don’t recognize it- it’s often said the only road that still looks like this clichéd long lost northern world is Coronation Street.


The idea that by saying anything we are ‘whinging’ or being above our station says a lot about the champagne socialists or leafy liberals that stalk the north London dinner party circuit and infest the Sunday papers shouting in their look at me I’m really important voices.


This idea that London can cut and run with all the loot because it means that the people who live there will have lower taxes to pay and not have to pay for the rest of the country is quite interesting or quite selfish really. Some of the people muttering this talk are even quite sane and consider themselves liberal or even erring towards the left. It smacks of a different England that we had long left behind and the olde worlde of central Europe city states sneering at the warty poor fighting in the markets like a Breughel painting. This future dream of yours David of walled city states surrounded by the starving poor- it sounds like the middle ages!


What kind of future is that?




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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Really like this, Jon. It has struck a chord with me. I have long feared that we are devolving, we, being the ruling, anti-socialist class. I am not of this camp, I’m an “I” man but not in the Frank Turner sense. A million episodes of Jeremy Kyle on repeat forever on daytime television, reinforcing stereotypes to those who are at home in the day, through unemployment, chosen or not is still toxic. Jamie Theakston, narrating poisoness cop shows showing the “underclass” misbehaving (all heavily edited) then being brutalized, only fans the flames of Daily Mail readers, letting them bark at the telly with their “Look at the drunken scum, drug dealers, brown people in hoods causing trouble”. Are we a matter of years away from walled cities, heavily policed by private security, were walking along a certain part of town will be seen as a threat to those within the wall? More like Roman, than Medieval times.

  2. What are you doing reading that murdoch rag the Times for anyway John ? isn’t it behind a paywall. I would stop paying so much attention to what ‘the elite’ are saying. Time to leave twitter and facebook and go underground.


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