2017 Revisited: A look back through the eyes of TCW’s top writers.
First posted June 2017
I have just received a message from a good friend in America: ‘Dear Jane, Our hearts are heavy for your nation. I realise the fire was not terrorism per se, but it seems that the conflagration was a reflection of another way we are at the mercy of our governments’ poor choices and priorities. No sprinkler system with all that renovation? I hope it leads to some change that leads to prevention wherever such risks exist.’
She has correctly spotted that all the current issues; terrorism, government chaos, and a massive fire are inextricably mixed together into a poisonous British soup. What she doesn’t see from America is the way the BBC has gone into overdrive. Real tabloid reporting with very few facts took up whole of the BBC’s News at Ten and Newsnight yesterday and Radio 4 news this this morning. A tragic accident is being portrayed like some kind of disaster movie – all action and no plot or facts. We’ve also got intense virtue-signalling all over the place, with Corbynites, including very recent recruits such as Harriet Harperson, trying to blame the Tory Government, in other words Mrs May.
For the BBC and the Left, the positive side of the tragedy is that the story can be turned into a glorious exercise in ‘komoonity’ interaction in the face of wicked, heartless capitalists. Of course, most reporters and TV pundits have to tread carefully with this as they never usually venture anywhere near West Kensington and its threatening council estates. One BBC Radio 4 reporter on Today this morning revealed his unfamiliarity with the territory when he visited the badly damaged ground floor flats and was surprised and sad to see there were no paintings on the walls.
The unspoken cause of this disaster is, of course, greedy landlords and poor enforcement of planning laws, but that in turn is related to the attempt by successive governments to cram millions from the developing world into a European city in less than twenty years.
This has happened in all our major cities, but London has the largest number of foreign-born people in the country. Its population grew at twice the rate of the UK as a whole between 2011 and 2015, and could reach 10million by the middle of next decade. According to the ONS, 8.2million lived there in 2011, but over four years that increased by 469,000 to just under 8.7million. The arrival of almost 200,000 people from overseas each year, only one third of them from within the EU, and an average of 130,000 births a year has driven the city’s growth exponentially.
Over the same period, the cost of housing in the capital has rocketed. Land Registry figures show that the average price of a property rose by 47 per cent between June 2011 and June 2015, from £285,906 to £419,474. More people head for London from across the world hoping to make it their home, but very few can now afford to rent or buy what might be called ‘decent’ accommodation when they get there.
There are squalid parts of London, such as Southall, where there are beds in sheds, boarded-up shops and high streets mainly occupied by brothels and betting shops, but this is largely ignored even after visits from BBC documentary teams. The way migrants live in the UK is largely left to them.
As globalisation turns our cities into high-rise concrete slums, individual nations are replaced by economic power groups and whole populations shift from lands of scarcity looking for abundance, there will be more high-density, high-rise living. Two hundred tower blocks are planned for London, which long ago abandoned its historic skyline in favour of the hubristic and the cheap to meet the needs of the rich and the poor. We had better get used to it: this is the future.