Sunday, May 14, 2017

Everyone Wants to Get to London...

That line, from the opening vignette in the book Londoners, has struck me since I've read it because while London means so many things to so many people, many share one thing in common: hopes for something new from life. Americans, traveling abroad, seeking new adventures in the big city in a new country. Brits, who migrate to London seeking new financial opportunities. Members from the EU and beyond, who come here to start new lives--many times fleeing tyranny and oppression. And, in my case, an academic who has always had an interest in understanding British politics and history as an intellectual, now seeking to expand into new realms of learning with the rekindled curiosity of a younger man. London: A place many want to be. And, yet, a place that is often resented and demonized elsewhere.

Take, for example, an observation made today by one of my students. After an afternoon and evening of walking, he said that he's heard many accents--but few that are British, English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish. The woman checking us into today: Italian. The waiters in our restaurant: East European. The border agents checking our passports: Indian. London, above all else, is British precisely because of its colorful tapestry and the cacophony of its accents.

The big question is how much will London lose as the United Kingdom prepares to exit the European Union? Perhaps a lot indeed. Many industries throughout the nation depend upon the free flow of labor. London, the financial capital of Europe and perhaps the world, thrives precisely because of its connectivity to the European Union. The tourism industry--which is housing and feeding us during our three weeks--is in a tough position. Although the weakened pound against the dollar provides greater incentives for Americans to make the trip across the pond, the industry may have difficulty addressing increased demand without access to European workers (see here for example).

Many who voted for it did so to protest free trade and the overbearing role of London in the British economy. Many of these voters--especially older voters--look back fondly to the days of the British Empire. The great irony of Brexit, then, that in voting to leave the European Union, Brexiters may have fatally wounded one of its last vestiges: an economically vitally and globally integrated London.

Will everyone still want to get to London in ten years? That remains to be seen.

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