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Book review: This is London - life and death in the world city

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I have been too delicate (or is it fearful?) to comment much on how different the London to which I returned to live in 2011 was from the one I worked in twenty years earlier. To friends I’ve remarked that the monastic silence I used to enjoy on public transport has been replaced by a bazaar-like Babel. I’ve mentioned that Londoners no longer make way politely for each other in the street or on the Tube. Most remarks I could have made however would have exposed me to allegations of “racism” and those are best avoided in casual conversation. If I’m going to say something dangerous, I prefer to do so in writing that I can take care about and revise!

A remark between friends in a bar that “it doesn’t feel like home anymore” or “it’s not at all like an English city” could get one into hot water — however harmless (and true) such observations might be. So, cyber-warrior for free speech that I would like to think I am, I keep (mostly) shtum. Who needs censorship when we are all self-censoring so assiduously?

This book, by Ben Judah, has no such concerns. It tears into those issues and does so without qualms. It does more than merely put statistics on such observations, though it certainly does that too.

“There is a whole illegal city in London. This is where 70 per cent of Britain’s illegal immigrants are hiding. This is a city of more than 600,000 people, making it larger than Glasgow or Edinburgh. There are more illegals in London than Indians. Almost 40 per cent of them arrived after 2001. Roughly a third are from Africa. This is the hidden city: hidden from the statistics, hidden from the poverty rates, hidden from the hunger rates. They all discount them: a minimum 5 per cent of the population.”

The author, a journalist, takes his readers into the parallel universes that make up modern London; universes that know little of each other and share one major truth — to them my London is a legend and Londoners like me (and the few of our descendants that still live here) are fabulous beasts. They are as likely to know a unicorn as us.

“Between 1971 and 2011 the white British share of London’s population slumped from 86 per cent to 45 per cent. This is the new London: where 17 per cent of the white British have left the city in the first decade of this century.”

He spends time with street people around Hyde Park. He hangs with a Nigerian policeman and a Nigerian teacher. He visits with the pampered wife of a Russian minigarch. He hangs with the drug dealers who serve my part of West London in a market I pass most days. He smarms and lies his way into the company of people who probably shouldn’t open up to him. At times I worried for the safety of his subjects such as the prostitutes talking about their murdered friend. Sure, he changes their names but the details are so specific that their identities are only protected by his assumption that no one connected to them will do something so “old London” as read his book. 

The pace of the change he documents statistically (he’s a recent arrival himself and has no emotional baseline against which to measure it) is phenomenal. The new arrivals have had little chance (even if old Londoners had reached out to help them — and we didn’t) to absorb the local culture or adapt to our customs. Not only do they keep themselves to themselves – they remain in the siloes of their specific identity group.

“There is a whole African city in London. With more than 550,000 people this would be a city the size of Sheffield. And it has grown almost 45 per cent since 2001.”

The cheery slogan of our age is “diversity”. It’s as real as slogans usually are. A black teacher in an East End school observes (having first asked to adjourn to an offsite location where she feels free to speak):

‘They say this is a multicultural school. But it’s not. The school is dominated by Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims, with some blacks, a few whites and EUs coming in. I went to a Muslim school in Nigeria, so I can recognize this.’

Asked if the children she teaches are becoming English, she answers

‘With black children they do. But with Asian children they try not to. The Muslims I don’t think they will ever be English. They don’t want to be at all.’

As the Guardian’s review of the book says (casually smearing Nigel Farage as a racist with its usual disregard for truth or justice)

It’s easy to imagine how Nigel Farage or the Daily Mail might exploit his material.

but someone should be exploiting this material, surely, in order to address the issues it raises? God knows the Guardian never will because these poor exploited people are cleaning its readers’ lavatories and keeping down the costs in their Mayfair restaurants. The native workers who might best be hoped to sympathise with their plight are too despised by Guardian readers these days to be listened to. 

The lost souls living in misery amidst London’s wealth have been drawn here by lies. Not ours but those of people traffickers who hold many of them in near slavery among us; making them pay off at 100% interest the debts incurred to get here while threatening to harm the families back home they came here to help. Or their lies and those of compatriots who came here before them who make up success stories to “protect” their families from the squalid truth.

They dared to come here illegally because of half-truths about our respect for legal rights — portrayed to them as weakness. Yet those rights — pace the Daily Mail — are not the problem. It’s the weakness of the enforcement of our laws that leaves them here in legal limbo.

The book is not well-crafted. A good editor could have made it more pleasurable to read but this is not literature but journalism. It’s the literary equivalent of a visit to Auschwitz — a moral duty from which enlightenment, not pleasure, should be expected. I commend it to you not for your enjoyment but for the benefit of your soul. 



Source: https://www.thelastditch.org/2020/02/book-review-this-is-london-life-and-death-in-the-world-city-by-ben-judah.html


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