A lot of the opening moves in the culture war were predicated on the idea that normal people hate Londoners. There were suddenly so many new words for us, all of them pejorative, often for puzzling reasons you could only really understand with your gut: “metropolitan elites”; “experts”; “cappuccino-drinkers” which later became “latte-sippers”; “north London lawyers”, in which the city itself had helpfully been rolled into the insult; “Westminster bubble”, which pretended to slate politicians but atmospherically tainted anyone at all proximal to Westminster.
The capital was a byword for inauthenticity, a natural habitat for the wealthy and the remote. It couldn’t possibly stick, I thought, because it is so dumb. Plenty of Londoners aren’t wealthy at all. Plenty of people right across the country – yes, even in the north of England – put milk in their coffee.
And yet it did stick. It turned out that many people did hate elites and experts, and politics, and that to live in a metropolis at all, particularly Britain’s main one, with your fancy shops and your silly ideas, was enough to make your compadres sick to their stomachs, and I guess I should live and learn. But I am still surprised to see that vote-pulling strategy – “Londoners: don’t you just hate them?” – deployed in the city’s mayoral race.
Susan Hall, who secured the Conservative candidacy – fighting off fierce, noble competition from one lawyer who had never held elected office of any kind, and one apparatchik who withdrew following groping allegations, which he has denied – has a particular beef with the Notting Hill carnival. “Of course police officers dread it,” she said last year. “There is always violence and they put themselves in danger at every Notting Hill carnival. The cost of policing it is eye-watering. How long will it be allowed to continue in this way? Crazy.”
Ten Labour MPs co-signed a letter to the Tory party chairman, Greg Hands, last week in which they remarked that Hall “seems convinced of the innate criminality of Black people”, which is, all geo-tribal loyalties aside, not a quality I’d be looking for in any mayor. Hall’s team called the letter’s allegations “desperate smears and a complete mischaracterisation” of her past comments. But her attitude to carnival is also such an obvious shorthand for “I hate London”: to take an epic event of celebration, which charts this beautiful journey from tension and discord to inclusion and unity, and sploshes beer all over it, and turns up the volume on its joy – and then complain about the cost of its policing and yearn for it to be disallowed? She might as well have said that Hyde Park takes up too much valuable real estate.
Hall is pro-Trump, pro-Truss, pro-Brexit – everything the capital city has reliably voted against, she is in favour of
Hall has other views that I suspect would put her out of step with many London voters. She’s pro-Trump, pro-Truss, pro-Brexit: for brevity, everything the capital city has ever reliably voted against, this Conservative candidate is in favour of. But I still feel like the decisive bit is that she hates this city, and the very best bits about it are what she hates the most.
Howard Cox, another fresh face to politics, is standing as the Reform party’s candidate with three big ideas, one of which is: “Ditch Sadiq Khan”. That would normally be taken as implied, right? You want to win, so you can be the winner, and that other guy doesn’t win. But that would be to miss the man’s point: “Khan” – like “Ulez”, like “latte”, like “Notting Hill carnival” – reads like just code for: “London? Full of wankers. I’ve no time for the place.” Cox, incidentally, thinks that Joe Biden’s presidency is illegitimate. Is it of tremendous importance that a man who is unlikely to win office believes in a conspiracy theory with very little direct relevance to devolved UK politics? Not really, except it’s another flag. Facts, truth? Those are the kinds of things the metropolitan elite want you to care about.
Wherever you live in Britain, it’s surely a breach of our citizenly rights that we should be hearing about this race at all, which isn’t until next May. We don’t need nine straight months of: “Vote for me – I hate this city.” As emotionally complicated as that message is, I feel they could get it across in a fortnight.