BE is on his fourth flu day, at home feeling sorry for himself.
For some reason I had never seen The Long Good Friday. It turned up in my Lovefilm envelope the other day and being capable only of mooching in front of the telly I got around to watching it this weekend. I wasn’t around at the time it was made, so I can’t tell whether it reflects a fair capturing of the zeitgeist, but I found the background premise of it quite interesting.
Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is a successful London mobster but it is his aim to think bigger. He wants London to be a bit less parochial and to embrace the new [Common Market, international finance] era by redeveloping London’s now-rotting docks and invites the New York Mafia to London to see the potential. [There's an Olympic angle too, which I didn't quite understand and according to Wikipedia London wasn't even bidding for the Olympics at the time.]
Shand’s girlfriend Victoria (Helen Mirren) lives in a St Katherine’s Dock penthouse. She’s not a kept bimbo, Shand seeks and accepts her advice and she is a trusted lieutenant in her own right.
It’s all very glamorous, nice cars and lots of money changing hands. Shand is a self-confessed Landana and he wants his city to compete with the best in the world. It’s aspirational, it’s forward-looking.
Of course eventually the Docks were redeveloped, under the watchful eye of Michael Heseltine. It’s fun to see the Docks (and London generally) as they were in 1979/80. Eventually London even hosted the Olympics (remember that?!).
I read a fascinating book, written in the early 1970s by a leading Tory light, effectively about how to plan London’s modernisation. The style was very dated in that it took a belief in central state planning as read, but at the same time it exuded confidence that London (and Britain) could plan for and take advantage of the forthcoming inevitable economic changes. The book talked about new infrastructure and housing, it talked about redevelopment opportunities and how they should be embraced to build a better city. Now I’m the first to say that I’m glad that Covent Garden was not subjected to the kind of comprehensive redevelopment that this chap envisaged, and in retrospect his confidence in the ability of planners and architects to create a sustainable community in Thamesmead seems laughable. But I can’t help wondering whether the prevailing attitude today, which seems to be set against ever doing anything new, might be worse.
There are plenty of people drawing new tube lines on maps and drawing pretty pictures of residential skyscrapers on inner city dead space, but they aren’t in the main stream. Certainly in my part of town councillors and activists are campaigning hard against every new development that is proposed. There seems to be an I’m alright Jack attitude. My London lifestyle is perfectly pleasant, I won’t accept anything which might change that. I can’t stand it.
People seem to not accept that Shand and Heseline were actually successful. London is a properly international modern city. It is growing and needs to grow. The houses that once could be afforded by middle-class professionals are now snapped up by the world’s leading metal traders or lawyers or musicians, leaving everyone other than the super-rich squabbling over housing that was built for the poor. Where do these NIBMYs think the next generation of Londoners (whether born here or yet to arrive on these shores) are going to live? The fact that London house prices have been booming even while the UK’s economy stagnates should tell you something.
As I say, I don’t know what the general consensus was thirty years ago but if the film is anything to go by it may have been “yes we can, and we should”. And during the 2012 Olympics lots of people came out of the woodwork and said “oh yes, that was rather good, wasn’t it”. So why have we as a society immediately relapsed into being against everything?