"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” said Samuel Johnson in 1777, in a famous early bid for the job of head of PR at the London tourist board. On the other hand, he also said that “A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs,” so either things have changed over 250 years or, just occasionally, Dr Johnson talked out of his backside.
Back in the days when earth had not anything to show more fair than the view from Westminster Bridge, I dare say it really was quite a lark to live in London. But whereas in 1802 there were “Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples… all bright and glittering in the smokeless air”, now the city doth wear, like a garment, a 24-hour blanket of smog, and William Wordsworth would probably be run over by a bus if he maundered around the A302 at dawn waxing poetic about the Thames.
I’m delighted, then, by a suggestion in last week’s London Evening Standard that maybe it’s time for Londoners to cut our losses and move up north. The Londoner’s Diary pointed to the renovations needed to both Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, and quoted the London School of Economics’ Professor Tony Travers who called this “the perfect opportunity to move power out of London”.
I’d go further than moving the government and the Queen, though, and solve the dilemma about Heathrow’s third runway while we’re at it. London is already full up. (And I say this as an economic migrant from Pontefract, via Birkenhead, Plymouth and Derby.) Let’s stop at the three or four major airports that London already has, and send any new people to one of the perfectly good ones in Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow or Bristol. Tourists will see that they’re much more lovely than anything London has to offer, and business travellers will be impressed that there are places in Britain where we still actually make things. It is true that all of these places are a long drive from central London, but so is “London” Stansted, aka a mean trick we play on foreign visitors.
When the BBC announced plans to move some of its staff to Salford, the news was greeted with horror by entrenched Londoners, including Peter Salmon, the BBC North director who refused to leave his £1.85m home (yes, just the one) in London’s suburbs. And yet, at BBC Media City last year, a Salford cabbie told me that the escaped Londoners are loving it there.
If The Independent on Sunday were to up sticks, I would race my colleagues to the fresh air, affordable housing, cheerful people and decent beer. Those who want to remain might even get a seat on the Tube. As Samuel Johnson also said: “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better,” so I’m hitching a lift with the Queen and heading north. Boris Johnson can stay behind.Reuse content