Tuesday, 4 October 2016

What would an Independent Eco-socialist London City State Look Like?

In the wake of the Brexit vote in the European Union (EU) referendum, where Londoners voted 60%-40% to remain in the EU, there were some calls for London to declare itself an independent city state, which I reported on this blog here and here.

With it becoming increasing clear from the government’s rhetoric that Britain’s membership of the European Single Market is expendable, and trumped by a desire to limit immigration from (eastern) Europe, the question arises once more. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, also said in her speech to the Tory Party conference this week that there will be ‘no opt outs' for the different nations of the UK. This is particularly aimed at the Scots, and to a lesser extent the Northern Irish, but it would appear to go for London too.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said in the past that London wants ‘EU pass-porting rights’ for London’s financial services sector, which basically means no tariffs on financial transactions between London and the EU. He also has said that he wants London visas to be available to EU nationals, so they can come and work in London. Khan is pushing for London to keep more of the taxes it raises as well, like cities such as Tokyo, Paris and New York.

He reiterates these things in an interview in the Financial Times yesterday, but it appears as though they will not be forthcoming. On London as an independent city state, Khan said:

“I love the sound of ‘El Presidente’... But it’s not going to happen.”  

He hasn't gone this far previously, on closing the door completely on the subject. In short, he looks to have bottled it.

If it were to happen, then it would be primarily to keep the financial services industry happy, which certainly brings much wealth into London, but it doesn’t get shared around that much. Something like a Singapore or Hong Kong city state might be the model. But what if an independent London was run along eco-socialist principles? A model of a sustainable city of the future?

The first thing that people invariably think of when London as an independent city state is mentioned, is of borders or walls built around the city, but there is no reason for this to be the case. London would allow free access to people from the rest of Britain, just like it does today. If London were to remain in the EU, then free access would be available for EU citizens too, which might cause discontent in the rest of Britain, but if they wanted to, they could bar immigrants living in the areas under their jurisdiction. This doesn’t seem to be a very difficult concept to enact. It would probably be easier to achieve some of the things below with London outside of the EU, though. 

Where would London’s food come from? Under eco-socialist principles, London would strive to be as self-sufficient as possible in food production, which would need a massive effort of utilising gardens, roof gardens, allotments, city farms, market gardens, open spaces and perhaps using some of the space in London’s many parks for farming. Having said this, a population of 8.5 million would provide some challenge to feed. It is likely that some food will need to be imported, from Britain and Europe, but no further afield in the main, to reduce carbon emissions from long distance transportation of food. We could encourage shipments of food etc to be transported by wind power. Water would need to be carefully conserved from London’s rivers and as much rain water captured as possible, for human use.

With energy production, again self-sufficiency would be the goal, with a huge expansion in solar, wind where possible, harvesting heat from rivers, ground heat pumps and using Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, as well a huge energy conservation programme. As with food it is again unlikely that all the energy that the city requires could be self-produced, which would include power for electric powered transport, mainly public transport, so some energy will need to be imported from the same sources as the food.  

There are only two airports within the boundaries of the London Boroughs, Heathrow and City Airports, but arrangements might be made with Gatwick (in Sussex) and Stanstead (in Essex). No expansion of existing capacity would be undertaken.

The Port of London would need to be re-opened, and there would be less need for all of the sky-scraping bank buildings that proliferate in docklands now, so they can be turned into warehouses. It should be stressed that the new docks would be built on eco-socialist principles and so, would be designed and built in an attractive and even beautiful way.

Some friends from Brighton have suggested that Brighton might like to join a London city state, saying that they would be prepared to rename the city as London-on-Sea. We could do with some coastline, so I think it would be a good idea for both parties.

London’s governance would need a complete overhaul, and I’m afraid we would not require a President Khan, moving instead to a local assembly model, which could retain the current Borough set up, and the City of London, but have more power devolved to the lowest possible levels. The Greater London Authority (and Assembly) would be reformed at the top level, with lower assemblies having the power of recall of those above. Assembly members would be elected yearly, and individuals would only be allowed one term, in every ten year period.

The monarchy would be abolished and Buckingham Palace and the other Crown Estate would be owned by the people. Buckingham Palace would make a very fine hotel. The Queen and the rest of the Royals could move to England, Windsor perhaps? 

We might also take a leaf out of William Morris' book News from Nowhere, and keep our organic fertiliser (dung), in what is now the Houses of Parliament. 

Private ownership would be replaced in the longer term by commonly held resources, and all open spaces would be commons. Gated communities would of course cease to exist. All local services, hospitals, schools, colleges, would be commonly owned, and welfare would be under the control of each local assembly. 

High tech and creative industries that are already well represented in London would be nurtured and invested in, and the cultural life of the city, media, entertainment, sports, art galleries, museums, restaurants, clubs would all be encouraged to flourish, albeit as co-operatives, with the obvious benefit of bringing in wealth from tourism. A London Pound would be the currency.   

This might all seem like a million miles away, and it is, but it is all perfectly possible. The capitalist system has a lock on our thinking of what is really possible, so we need to break out of this straight-jacket, and let our imaginations run free. We have everything to gain, and frankly, not much to lose.      

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