If you love London, it's time to start loving not London.
It all got too much after a while. The mortgage payments at the very limits of what we earned, the minimum journey of an hour to get anywhere bar the local pub or supermarket, the pressure of needing to keep a job that demanded a minimum of six, ten-hour days a week to keep your head above water. I love London and I've lived there for 31 of my 35 years. As a child my imagination was fed by trips to the Natural History and Science museums, I mooched about Camden as a teenager and headed East to Hackney in my twenties as it was cheap and full of places to party. London gave me a great life.
But that changed with the birth of my son. When the city demands so much of you that you want to actually see your children grow up, not just work to pay for someone else to look after them while you pull another late night, it became time to think the unthinkable and see what life could be like elsewhere.
It didn't take long after leaving to realise that London's intense pace and punishing expense isn't normal and more than that isn't necessary. In other parts of the country, it's not unusual for people to work five eight-hour days, live in homes they can afford and have a short journey into work. But it's clear from the outside, just how strong a centripetal force the capital exerts on the rest of the country, how it dominates political and cultural horizons and breeds awe and resentment in equal measure.
In London, on the other hand, entire communities are being pushed out of the city in wave after wave of gentrification (of which my 23 year old self was a part), meaning that this super-wealthy city is being serviced by people commuting from its fringes and beyond, working two jobs to make rent and never seeing their kids. Community is being broken down by a housing market that only serves existing homeowners and millionaire investors not the wider inhabitants of a vibrant, diverse city; benefit capping and the bedroom tax exacerbate the problem and suppressed wages across much of the public sector (and private sector outside financial services) compound the issue.
London has becomes a city that works best if you're independently wealthy so independent wealth is what London has become a proxy for. So much of the UK economy is concentrated into a single urban entity that it skews our politics to act on these perceived interests of the capital while prosperity in the rest of the country, we are told, depends on access to the London labour market. HS2 anyone? The more Britain's economy becomes focused on London, the more uninhabitable the city will become for everyone bar the wealthiest.
This has to stop. If you love London, as I do, of course you need more genuinely affordable housing and flexible childcare, better wages and real democracy. But you need more than that. The only way to save London from itself, the way to make it a liveable city for people who actually work for a crust is to demand that the rest of the country gets investment too. That talented graduates and skilled young workers don't feel they need to seek their fortune in the "big smoke" only to hand over the higher wages they earn to buy-to-let landlords, but that opportunities can be found in other cities and regions too. That we resist the slide towards a global mega-city existing to service a global capitalist class and return it to the city I grew up in, where families can live comfortably and happily in a creative, vibrant and diverse environment. For London to thrive as a liveable city, the rest of the country must do too.