Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Declinism and the decline of London

People are leaving London. Some for cheaper housing, others to escape the stress of city living; and the process is particularly marked for younger people.


Steve Latham


The creatives move to seaside towns like Margate, young families to the edgetowns for better accommodation.

Older people are leaving too, finally tired of the busyness and speed which characterises London, and which so entranced them when they arrived.

But this is one age group positioned to increase in the future: the elderly – a concomitant of general demographic developments in Britain and all developed countries.

The image of London as a centre for dynamism and creativity, among bright young things, will therefore change. The city faces a future of stagnation and decline.

Brexit will exacerbate this, as big businesses and banks relocate their offices and headquarters to the mainland, after Britain leaves the EU. Although bankers and businesspeople are often criticised, the presence of their firms guarantees the prosperity of the capital. Many smaller firms and jobs depend on the trickle down effect.

London also contributes to the national GDP; despite the complaints of Northerners (and I myself am ‘of the north’), about the capital city receiving more in government spending.

One consequence of the looming economic crisis, is the drop in house prices. But even this is ambiguous.

While it may result in more houses being within the reach of ordinary people (itself a doubtful claim, as the average price remains beyond their means), it could also compound the urban degeneration.

Areas like Notting Hill are now used to being castigated as centres of gentrification, but it was not so long ago, that they were regions of slum landlords and racketeering.

And they could easily become so again. Progress can become regress. Nothing is static in the ebb and flow of urban (de)development. It is only a small step back to my memories of the inner-city in the 1980s. A BBC interview with the activist and poet, Akala, highlights the dangers.

Challenging the authoritarian moral panic over continuing knife crime murders among young people, Akala accurately correlates this with experience of poverty in urban areas.

This is likely to continue, with structural economic decline, and ongoing Tory policies of austerity; which are likely to continue, despite promises by contenders in the Conservative leadership contest.

London as the creative hub of the world will be seen in hindsight as a temporary blip in the longterm decline of the UK; part of what Andrew Gamble analyses as the discourse surrounding ‘declinism’.

Nevertheless, The Observer (30.6.19) points out that outward population flows may actually signify the expansion of London, beyond the M25; into what Australian poet, Les Murray, called ‘sprawl’.

Decline and growth are dialectically related; the metropolitan exodus, for example, counteracted by persisting immigration.

Workers from Europe will be replaced by global incomers, to satisfy labour demands. Paradoxically then, for Brexiteers, one consequence of Brexit may be more (‘non-white’) immigration.

So London’s vibrancy and diversity may continue, even in decline. But this depends on political choices.

(Photos: Pixabay)




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