A city forever bustling with noise, transport, nightlife and people going about their daily life. A city with some of the most iconic places representing London and England. A city proud of its TFL, a city proud to have 21 million tourists annually, a city proud to be the heart of England and the United Kingdom. London itself is ‘divided’ into North, East, South, West and Central- with all being very different to one another (but also different amongst these regions). It’s a city with great financial power and a population of over 8 million. With all of this in mind, could it run independently of the rest of the UK?
It is kind of its own country as it is
London has the TFL- the heartbeat of the capital, with its veins spread outside London on some of its lines. Its bus services, trains, trams and other services operate in the city. The TFL gets its funds directly from the mayor’s budget (with also a sizable amount from the national government). This means that London is equipped to repair, maintain and build upon the transport sector. The TFL and its importance across the course of its history for the city has been discussed here.
But not only that,the Metropolitan Police (the Met) operates across all of London’s 32 boroughs. Founded in 1829, this police service has been protecting the streets of London for almost two centuries. Having a fully functioning police service already in operation makes it feasible for London to become an independent nation because it has the means to protect its citizens. With over 43,000 officers and one of the biggest budgets available at over £3 billion, it is the biggest police service in Britain. Arguably, it has the resources available to fund itself to continue protecting the people.
One of the main issues is whether a large enough budget will be available if London is independent? If the necessary funds are raised by taxes from the citizens and businesses of London, then there will be no issue. But without the funds from the rest of the UK being available, it is a possibility that taxes could increase in order to secure more funds. The rise in crime rates coupled with the decrease in the Met’s budget creates further obstacles. For instance,, despite the terror attacks that occurred in 2017, there was no increase in the budget for the Met. This decrease in the budget may mean less police on the street, or the force not being fully trained or equipped- hence the possibility of crime rising. From 2013 to 2018, there have been over 200,000 more crimes reported- an extremely high number and a hint as to what could happen if not enough funding is provided for the Met.
Furthermore, it has been well noted that under the tenure of mayor Sadiq Khan’s first term, crime has sky-rocketed. Again, there is a catch. Considering England is run by a Conservative government, but has a London Labour mayor, there will always be disagreements and it is hard to see who is to blame for the lack of funding and rise in crime. It is noted that only 30% of the Met’s budget derives from the mayor of the city, with the remaining being from the national government. Therefore, the government, by having a higher share of the power (and funds), are the ones who could dictate how much is to be funded into such a service.
What if the financial sector runs away?
The financial sector runs the city and is very lucrative for all of those involved- in 2019, £132 billion was produced across the UK in the financial sector, where London generated half of the output. But what if financial firms and employees decide to move away from the city? This will cause immense issues for London and the government in charge. It would be assumed a fair amount of people will be working within the financial sector. In 2018, roughly 180,000 were in the financial sector in the City of London alone- a small local authority within London centred roughly around Holborn. So, if these people were to be suddenly made unemployed/moved abroad along with financial institutions, the government would have fewer tax revenues, lower economic growth and less money available for pension funds and social services. Then the issue of crime being prevalent will likely be higher if youth are not able to get a job and considering crime is already high as it is, this needs to be avoided as much as possible. High crime would lead to a slowdown in the economy, misallocation in resources (as more would have to be probably be spent on the Met rather than education for example) and just the general safety of the public.
To say London is not dependent on the financial sector is an understatement. Half of the UK’s financial sector is conducted in London- with over three times as many jobs in this city’s financial sector compared to the next area with the largest employment figures, South East of England. So, the UK and London both require the financial sector to function, trade and grow- it accounted for 6.9% of the UK’s GDP in 2019. And, the main issue is that London will find it hard to operate in other services- agriculture, production or likewise.
It is not farmland though...
The main issue with London will be food. It is not a city with great farmland- with only the outskirts of London which can be considered as places to grow significant amounts of produce. As of 2012, only 0.04% of the working population are in agriculture, with not all of the food grown being for the London population. Much of London’s food would have to be imported from the rest of the UK and other parts of the world. There is an argument that the UK does import a lot of its food as it is. As of last year, a reported 80% of food– including necessities- are imported from abroad. The rest of the 20% isn’t all from London- so a larger proportion would be imported. If London was independent, it is likely there would be double tariffs imposed at the UK’s borders for the goods to enter London. This is when the imported goods are in the UK, but then tariffs are paid again when they have to enter London (London has no direct access to the sea). However, it should be noted that due to the UK Global Tariff, it means there are no zero quotas and tariffs between (most) UK and EU goods. As can be seen, apart from a large financial sector, London won’t be able to offer much else to the rest of the UK- especially in agricultural terms.
Only 8.6% of the city is used for agriculture purposes, with a majority of this coming in a select few boroughs spread out across the periphery of London. In 2008, there was the “Growing Food for London” conference which attempted to highlight the need for Greater London to be able to grow its goods and address the issues farmers face (costs and land availability being the main issues). The recession, climate change and Covid (amongst others) have halted any serious progression. It is known that parts of London were previously areas of farmland/potential agriculture (that are not on the edges)- for example, Lincoln Inns Field (as hinted at in the name) or even Shepherd’s Bush– as depicted by the map of Shepherd Bush around 1841. Therefore, the land of London has changed very quickly. This is due to the rise in the population, hence the rural areas had to be changed into urban areas allowing accommodation and buildings to be constructed. Can these areas be transformed back into farmlands? It could be possible if the ground is suitable for growing produce- but then what happens to the people who currently reside in those areas?
There is a clear support for Labour
Despite the tumultuous period the Labour party has been under, London has almost always been a sea of red since 1945 (a simple search of general election results will identify this). And this speaks volumes if you look at it, especially since the last election in 2019, the Conservative Party has enjoyed support throughout much of the south of England, but London stayed majority Labour. This was at a time when optimism in the Labour Party was at an all-time low, with the Labour party attaining the lowest share of votes across the nations since the 1930s. In addition to this, there have only been five different labour MPs since 1900, with almost all other terms having been occupied by Conservatives. This highlights that other parts of the nation have voted majority Conservatives, whereas London has stuck to its Labour roots. So, in a political landscape, Labour seems to resonate much more with Londoners. And this makes sense in a way- London has been a place for the working-class voters (which Labour tend to be associated with). A greater percentage of ethnic minorities voted for Labour in the 2019 general election. Whether this is due to first-generation post-WW2 immigrants having arrived under Labour rule and have supported them ever since, or if Labour focuses their attention on minority groups, it is hard to tell. However, what can be said is that London is very different politically from what a general election may otherwise suggest.
What to make out of this?
The best thing may be to identify how other countries across the British Isles have been. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are all stable nations, have the NHS operating and tend to have good relations with England, though Northern Ireland relations are currently uncertain due to Brexit. However, the main difference is that London has never been independent of England. From the days of the Romans, to the Vikings and King Alfred, where London came under the rule of the Kingdom of Mercia. London has always been a very important stronghold, but never an independent country/state.
However, a country has to start from somewhere. Five nations across the globe have been formed within the last two decades. London has a wealth of history and struggles embedded- the Great Fire of London, riots, Civil War, the leadership always changing hands- but also many positives as highlighted throughout. There are less opportune places for a country to be based- London does have its riches, a sizable population and is surrounded by good trading partners. Other issues haven’t been discussed (immigration most notably), but some of the more interesting ones have been discussed in this article.
With Brexit, the Scottish referendum and the idea of a united Ireland having occurred or been talked about, an independent London may not be such a far-flung idea.