Dave Hill: Even as London leads the UK’s recovery the government is undermining it
From its attitude to TfL to its approach to Northern Ireland the current government seems intent on holding the capital back
Despite major sectors of its economy taking a hammering from Covid, London is to no great surprise, leading the nation back to positive growth, according to figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics last week. These show that in the first three months of this calendar year the capital’s gross value added growth was, at 1.2 per cent, higher than that of any other UK region or nation compared with the preceding quarter.
Not everything is on the up, with construction and hospitality still short of workers, but tourists are returning and the Center for Cities high streets tracker classifies London’s comeback as strong. As Boris Johnson used to proclaim when he was London’s Mayor, the capital is the “nation’s engine” and the sooner it is once again running at full power, the better for everyone.
This simple fact of economic life is surely still known to Johnson, as it ought to be to his ministers and mandarins, yet they continue to behave as if a little thing like isn’t going to stop them from undermining London’s return journey to full health and buzzing productivity.
The government’s near-sadistic micro-management of Transport for London is already a farce long-running enough to rival anything currently running in the West End, though there is nothing remotely funny about it. Even if you take the view, as many do, that Sadiq Khan has been too punchy for his own good in seeking help, Her Majesty’s Government has the heavyweight power in this contest. It ought to rise above the conflict and do the right thing for the nation by allowing London’s theoretically devolved authorities to get on with doing their jobs, instead of using TfL’s troubles, caused by Covid, to impose its own priorities and help transport secretary Grant Shapps score petty anti-London points.
The current main business of the government, namely scrabbling frantically to keep the badly-wounded Johnson in Downing Street – and, of course, an unimpressive bunch of ministers in their jobs – now embraces seeking to rekindle the divisive emotions of Brexit by picking a fight with the European Union over the Northern Ireland protocol, a move no one except Brexit ultras and the Democratic Unionist Party wants and which has prompted Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to express deep concern.
His response to the Northern Ireland Bill, published yesterday, is that it “risks significant harm to businesses in London and right across the whole UK” and leaves us “teetering on the brink of a trade war with the EU that will mean further economic pain and if in investment”. Burge points out that “the UK is already set to be the worst performing economy in the G20 over the next year” and urges the government to “carefully consider the impact that playing politics with the protocol could have on the British economy”.
The trouble is, of course, that the careful consideration Johnson appears to have made is that playing politics with the protocol will improve his chances of continuing to live at Number 10. The Conservatives, once proudly known as “the party of business” is now the party of endless contrived and destructive post-Brexit culture wars, and if remain-voting London suffers – and the rest of the country with it – that is a small price to pay if “Boris” can be propped up in office for a few more days.
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