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Wednesday, 10 July 2019

In praise of cities

I've long described myself in political shorthand as 'democrat and localist'. With Brexit for the past three years, I haven't found much of a chance to pursue the second of those core values - almost every day having been a battle to preserve the first. However, a serendipitous find in the Evening Standard has prompted this post. Under Osborne the paper has become a sort of lifestyle free adsheet with little bits of news squeezed in between the ads. Its editorials were given over to George's vindictive spleen against May for sacking him, but now she's gone (almost) our man with the look of a furtive Onanist is letting normal content slip past him. Such is a piece by Ben Rogers in the comment section - the first ES piece I think I've linked to since Osborne took over.

Rogers, head of a pro-London think tank, is pursuing an agenda for cities to gain greater local control. It is an area in which the RSA has long advocated multiple initiatives to take advantage of the strengths of cities. It is based on changes that in the developed world can be positive - the growth of world cities, city nation-states. London's population dwarfs that of Ireland, and is equal to the populations of Scotland and Wales combined. European cities, unlike the smog-laden sprawl of US cities, are compact and environmentally sustainable. For thirty years living in Zone 2 I never once owned a car - and consequently was able to spend much of those thirty years with a comfortable level of alcohol coursing through my veins. We build densely, and upwards; we have superlative public transport systems, we have 24/7 economies. For economic growth and vitality, for learning and development, for culture, for innovation, for leisure and pleasure, cities are ace.

I can almost hear your hackles erecting, readers, as you mentally enumerate the downsides of cities - that they avoid being part of our congruent national identity, that they display crime, extremes of wealth and poverty, poor environmental quality, are hotbeds of moral relativism, competing with the national culture and of course are breeding grounds for globalists and remainers. Yes, all these things are true. Yet cities are the engine of development, the powerhouses of renewal.

Boris showed how an effective Mayor could allow London to see its potential. Andy Burnham is no less committed to the North. Both were shackled by a constipated Treasury and power-hungry Whitehall; tax must be devolved as well as spend, city-specific laws and bye-laws should replace the centralisation and State power over law and public order, planning, health, transport, education and economic development - these should all be torn from Whitehall's grasp in an explosion of Localism.

Problems will tend to correct themselves. Cities attract militant and proud sexual deviants in hordes; they will overcome cabals of mediaeval bigots whose instinct is to persecute them. It's already happening. And without the veto of Whitehall, the instincts of city-dwellers of all races and classes is for a firm and determined approach to law enforcement; there are no greater fans of police and prisons than those at greatest risk of being burgled, robbed, stabbed or shot. The Lord Longfords of our age don't live in Peckham or Walthamstowe, and their ultra-liberal pleadings from their Cotswold vicarages can be drowned out.

We will leave the EU. This is the great gift - possibly the last great gift - that we can give our cities. Outside of the EU they will quickly learn to thrive and prosper, driving national growth and international trade and development. Powerful British city-states will dominate a sclerotic Eurozone on the verge of collapse, our buccaneer cities will be Drake to the clumsy Spaniards, Raleigh to the encumbered globalists, heavy and low in the water and ripe for the taking.

So let's hear it for cities, and for Localism!


Cheerful Edward said...

How many of the Tories' hundred-and-sixty thousand etc. - that includes the Brexit Party's cabal - live in our great cities?

That is the problem. They are largely from small provincial towns and the country.

The 0.36% that you rightly quote as owning two-thirds of England contains a further, more concentrated minority, of just a few hundred, who in turn own most of that.

Their enormous contingent wealth and connections mean that they will always remain a central pillar of the British Establishment, and the Tories - including TBP - will always make sure that they come first.

Raedwald said...

Edward - I've got to stop your old Socialist Worker bollocks about 200 toffs in top hats owning half of Britain. It's simply not true. Yes, 252,000 landowners (not people - entities with a legal personality)own 2/3rds of land by area - the top 8 are

Forestry Commission - 2,571,270 acres
National Trust - 630,000 acres
MoD - 592,800 acres
Pension Funds - 550,000 acres
Utilities; water, power, rail - 500,000 acres
Crown Estate - 358,000 acres
RSPB - 321,237 acres
Duke of Buccleuch - 240,000 acres

Cheerful Edward said...

Raedwald, I'm using the same sources as you, Shrubsole from Land Registry.

Those owners that you mention account for five or six million of England's thirty-odd million acres.

Furthermore, it is estimated that most of the 20% of England's land which remains unregistered is also part of hereditary titles.

There is no contradiction between a claim that a few hundred people between them own more than eight legal persons, and I don't know why you make out that there is.

Whatever, the historic relationships mean that these people will always be highly influential in Tory-TBP. You only have to look at Hunt's recent pandering to fox hunters to deduce that.

Raedwald said...

Edward your 200 owning 50% doesn't appear in Shrubsole's research - source(s) please? Author, title, date, publisher or learned institution.

Liberista said...

"Yet cities are the engine of development, the powerhouses of renewal."
Sir, i disagree.
the country folk pays roughly the same amount of taxes than the city people, but they hardly ever see a cop, or a firefighter; public transport is often non existent, internet slow, mobile telephony coverage poor, services intermittent or totally absent.
cities to a large extent free ride on the overburdened shoulders of country folk, who are on top of all this completely outvoted by those who think that power comes from the wall socket, food from the supermarket shelves, water from the tap, and that eating meat should be a capital crime.
city people will signal their virtue by banning diesel fuel and fireplaces, and country people will have to spend winters with a cold house.
the list is very long; most of the diseases of modern countries originate exactly from large metropolies that concentrate all wealth and power at the expenses of everybody else.

Cheerful Edward said...

Raedwald, you're getting bogged down on a detail.

"However, land ownership in Britain is still one of the most unequal in the world. 0.6% of the population owns 69% of the land. More than a third is still owned by the aristocracy whose ancestors seized it during the Norman Conquest and through the use of land trusts they are avoiding paying inheritance tax while maintaining the concentration of ownership to this day. During the enclosures our ancestors were violently thrown off the land and much of our current common land is being privatised" (Cahill, 2001).

So, a third, according to Cahill is not owned by that 0.6%, but of the whole, a third is owned by the aristos. So they own roughly half of that owned by the 0.6%. Can we agree on that, please?

Ah, but what if they only own, ooh, 48% of it eh? Why, that would be insignificant, wouldn't it? ;-)

Let's not forget the brutal Inclosures and Clearances, most of all, which created our urban underclass.

Mark said...

@Cheerful Edward

So what would you do:
1. To redress the exploitative tory outrage.
2. In the context of being in pthe EU - please, no "but I want to leave now" - as it is a construct you unreservedly admire as being superior in every way to old blighty.

Serious questions

Raedwald said...

Mihael Cahill writes lefty social policy bollocks and he is scarcely acquainted with academic honesty. Fail. No evidence. Fake News.

and my 'getting bogged down on a detail' is pulling you up on a lie that you cannot justify.

I find these half truths nd outright lies being spread by a marxist group called 'Land Justice Network - Lords vs Commoners' - is this you? It's bollocks.

banned for the remainder of the day.

Cheerful Edward said...

Interesting, Raedwald, the Daily Mail's report puts the elite core at one thousand two hundred, but does it matter whether it's a hundred or two thousand? Or whether it's a third, or a half of all land?

They are still the heart of the British Establishment, and it is tiny.

Mark, one proposal would be to replace the freeholds on hereditary farmlands with transferable farming rights, profits-à-prendres, as they are known, the Crown then owning the freeholds. That would mean that the public would get the increase in value on the granting of planning permissions.

A military coup against Wilson was proposed, for toying with that idea, however.

The Lisbon Treaty does not cover property law, nor most of other law by far.

Anonymous said...

On a far smaller scale, but it makes the point.
I inherited, with my siblings, just under 3 acres of land. If it was prime land in Westminster it would be worth millions. It isn't, it's agricultural land far from London for which we will almost certainly not get planning permission ever.
It's worth maybe £20,000 or so.
I own a larger area of land than many people who are infinitely wealthier than I am.
Acreage alone is meaningless as an indication of wealth but sounds disproportionately impressive - which is no doubt why it's a favourite scare statistic of the Left.

Raedwald said...

Liberista - I'm just as strongly in favour of the country and the counties getting their power back from Whitehall - including the power to determine their own taxation other than about a third of current tax needed for national stuff like the army and air traffic control.

I'm also in favour of an element of central tax re-distribution between the wealthiest regions and the poorest to ensure that everyone has access to a daily postal delivery, high speed broadband and similar fundamentals of an advanced democracy.

City people should be able to make their own local regulations other than the core of national civil & criminal law - and so should country people. Hunting, pest control, licencing hours and log burning should NEVER be the business of our national parliament

Cheerful Edward said...

It's not about numerical wealth, anon, but the contingent value of farmland is huge anyway.

No only that, but the aristocracy still own the underlying freeholds on much of London's grotesquely-priced leasehold property. On reversion, the freeholder gets any development, which simply becomes part of his land. These families are not in it for the short term. They've been at it for nine hundred and fifty years.

Our cities would benefit hugely from property law reform, i.e. more affordable enfranchisement of leaseholds etc.

Mark said...

@Cheerful Edward

You seem to have land ownership = tory = power.

Does land ownership equal power - in terms of dictating the way the country is run?

Two hundred years ago certainly, but today?

Do these tory landowners own the MSM? And wasn't it Putin who told us all to vote leave. How much land does he own?

I understand that you loath the tories but don't ascribe to them necessarily powers they don't have. If the tories are mere puppets, then how about labour, limpdumps or anybody else? If you want to reign the power of these people in, put limits on donations and transparency rules. Can't see the other parties wanting too much of that though as they are all chasing the same donors.

And is the EU in its power structures any better? (absolutely and totally not)

I live in a leasehold block of flats BTW and I'm anything but convinced that a joint ownership of the freehold would make my life easier or the bills I pay less. I extended it a few years ago and the place is mine until 2139.

Getting at some large landowner means you might hurt him but I'd need convincing as to how that helps me. I can see how it would benefit apparatchiks looking to carve out a lucrative career (with index linked pension of course). And of course, vampires always need fresh blood so they'd get to you sooner or later.

Cheerful Edward said...

The nexus between British land ownership, historical social and family connections, military and security position, and other, more modern influential standing needs to be properly understood.

These are cemented, reinforced, and perpetuated, by the private schooling system which they use almost exclusively.

But no, land owning per se does not any longer necessarily mean being closely linked to the rule of the country.

The Forestry Commission no doubt get pushed about like any other public sector body for instance. On that point, although they may own large freeholds, the value relating to that land may often well be mainly contained in hunting, shooting, and fishing rights - profits-à-prendre - to which it is subject, and those are again often in the hands of the same landed elite rather than in the Commission's.

Cascadian said...

Arguing a case for cities with examples that you need to use public transit (because the mayor has imposed onerous charges to use the public roadways), and most of the inhabitants are half-pissed or stoned is not persuasive. Nor is the comment "Cities attract militant and proud sexual deviants in hordes;" attractive.

Using London as an example, the former GLC city-state quickly devolved into a socialist hellhole. MetPlod is a disaster, its "police" quickly returning to safety when things go sideways (riots 2011). Seemingly, most of the population are now drug-dealers and welfare scroungers. Hospitals are stacked full with non-paying health tourists. Public health statistics show that London is on the precipice of a disaster. The much vaunted "art scene" is a government-subsidised mediocrity. The parts of the city that operate functionally are wholly reliant on daily influxes of the talented from suburbs.

Cheerful Edward is correct in one respect, the only people that benefit from London are the super-rich many of whom are not even British citizens. By any measure London is a place well worth avoiding.