Adrian Hamilton: Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner

The mood is more uncertain, the number of visitors is falling, and life in the city is more strained
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The Independent Online

It comes as no surprise to Londoners, left in a half-empty city this August, that commerce in the city is fast collapsing since the bombs. But then, sadly, it will come as no surprise either that the police have grossly misrepresented the facts of their shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

If Londoners, that most disparate of breeds, share one characteristic, it is a profound wariness of officialdom. Give them a police chief, or a politician, spouting "facts" and they will look to ensure their wallet is still there.

In the weeks after the bombings, we've had the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, informing us that we're facing a new world demanding new government actions and a loss of our rights; the Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, telling us to expect more bombs any minute; and the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, weaving visions of global networks and denying that Iraq has done anything to make our life more dangerous.

And all the while the mood is getting more uncertain, the number of visitors is falling and life in the city is more strained.

Londoners are not alone in their fears or their distrust, of course. But if the bombings and their aftermath have done nothing else to this city, it has been to show just how divided it is from the rest of the country and the powers-that-be.

In theory, the whole of Britain faces the threat of bombs. In practice, they have occurred in London and that is where any repeat, if it happens, is expected.

Formally, politicians and policemen give press conferences and speeches in London with Londoners in mind; in practice, they look to a wider audience, and particularly the media, with only a marginal look at the effect their words may have in the metropolis.

The common myth has it that London is a cosseted city, favoured by the politicians who work here and grossly over indulged by a media-political nexus obsessed with the capital to the exclusion of almost every other part of the country.

If only it were true. The media may be caught up in a narrow world around Whitehall. But London as a city with 7 million inhabitants, with pitifully poor services and areas of poverty as bad as, if not worse than, any other part of the country, gets barely a look in. If Londoners showed themselves so phlegmatic after the first bombing, it was largely because most commuters have grown so used to being delayed and turned off Tubes and buses that they regard it as part of normal life.

In economic terms, the city gets back nothing like the money it puts in through taxes and the importance of the financial industry to the country's total wealth. In political terms, it is under-represented in Cabinet, with the ultra-Blair loyalist Tessa Jowell as the only London MP at senior level - a representation we could probably do without - and a Mayor who, after a good start, has simply let the ball of the bombings drop in his eagerness to stay up there with the police and ministers.

In normal times, that may not matter too much. London is a city of villages whose inhabitants find a place to feel comfortable in. It isn't self-promoting in the way of New York, and it isn't self-regarding in the way of Paris. People find a job, a place to live and get on with their lives with their own set, wherever they come from.

Not the least reason why London is so empty in August is that it has become such an international financial centre, drawing in so many bankers and analysts from abroad. It's not the old English exodus to their country estates that empties the city at this time, but the number of foreign financial staff returning home for the annual holiday.

But the bombs have made a difference, and it is time that the leadership of the country understood this. The first bombs on 7 July brought almost relief. Everyone was expecting an attack after Madrid. Now it was over.

The second bombs on 21 July, although they caused no loss of life, were far more damaging to confidence. Once was not apparently going to be enough. People grew less trusting and felt more vulnerable. Those who didn't need to come to London, or to stay on after work, didn't. Hence the travails of restaurants and theatres as well as shops.

But for a lot of us, there is no choice. We have to use public transport, and it really is no help having to hear Sir Ian Blair and Clarke tell us to expect another bomb every day. Nor does it help to have a police force that executes an innocent Brazilian and then disguises the circumstances. We have enough to fear from the extremists in our midst without the threat of plain-clothed security officers.

Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell could have done something for London when it was needed most - just after the second bombings. They could have, like New York, subsidised an offer of half-price theatre tickets and two-for-one meals, and dropped the congestion charge, just as people were returning their tickets and cancelling their dinners. They're now planning it for September. But it's too late. The moment has passed and the city is getting on with its business.

London will get through. It has no choice. And it has a sort of wry tolerance that keeps it from the wilder fantasies of hate and fear. But spare us, please, from the self-justifications, the fantasies of world war and the cover-up of incompetence. We're old enough to be told that our leaders are just like ourselves, pretty much in the dark about what is going on.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

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