In the mid-1970s, a bankrupt New York City went begging to the federal government in Washington DC for a bailout. It had got itself into immense financial difficulty; indeed, it was bankrupt. The President, Gerald Ford, effectively said no.
The New York Post’s headline the day after was simple, but iconic: “Ford tells City: Drop Dead.”
We are not quite at that point yet in relations between Whitehall and London, but we can’t be too far off. Two key decisions by central government are imperilling the capital city’s prosperity.
The first is the refusal to offer a long-term financial settlement to Transport for London, which tomorrow will come to an end of its current pandemic-induced emergency funding deal. The capital’s network is uniquely amongst global cities reliant on fare revenues; myriad lockdowns put paid to those. The Department for Transport and various ministers have recently said that they will only give London a deal that is fair to taxpayers across the country, which, considering London and the south-east are the only net contributors to the Treasury, seems a tad cheeky. There is no recovery without a London recovery, and there is no London recovery without a functioning transport network.
The second is the failure of Whitehall to put together a bespoke package of measures for the new restrictions we now find ourselves in. The argument that nothing is shut so we can still go to restaurants and pubs and they don’t therefore need help is facile. Just look at city centre footfall next week. The financial argument seems not to hold much sway in Whitehall, though that may change if London’s tax contributions fall off a cliff.
For now all we have to ask central government is this: is the only reason you don’t seem to care about this country’s most powerful economic engine, the beating heart of our global soft power and home to eight million people, because it now tends to vote Labour?