Having heard the “London Is Open” mantra for months, I wondered what it might be open to.
The annual New Year fireworks display at the London Eye is always spectacular – guaranteed to feature on every major TV network from Taranaki, New Zealand, to Timbuktu, Mali, to Tupelo, Mississippi – as we confine the previous year to the dustbin of history and welcome another with renewed hope, the promise of better dreams and, let’s face it, a deep sense of foreboding.
“London is Open” boomed London Mayor Sadiq Khan, seconds before the electronic device detonated the first of the pyrotechnic extravaganza,
“I never knew it was shut,” I said to my fiancée, Sonya, aka ‘Er Indoors.
“Stop being obtuse. And Happy New Year,” she countered as she brought in January with a kiss.
Six months later, London is still open. Still bustling with tourists from Auckland to Anchorage and beyond. Still standing outside Buckingham Palace for a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II – or more likely the Changing of the Guard – still queuing at Madame Tussaud’s and the hustle and bustle of supporters making their way to the next Cricket World Cup match. Weirdly, you have to travel to London to reach most major rail destinations.
Mind you, London was open during the Blitz – day-to-day life did not change while the Luftwaffe dropped their bombs on the capital. A collective spirit, a feeling of oneness and a sense of humour got the residents through their darkest hours. And I don’t just mean the blackouts during the daily hours of darkness (which can feel like a lifetime in the winter months).
But, I’m sorry to say, London has changed.
Every other day, someone is robbed or murdered. Following the Dunblane Primary School massacre (where tennis star Andy Murray first attended classes) handguns in Britain were declared illegal in 1996. The knife is now the choice of weapon and these are freely available from any supermarket.
As for pickpocketing on the Tube, even the British Transport Police – the thinnest of the Thin Blue Line – admit figures are not good.
Given crime figures – more than 135 fatal stabbings in the past year or so – I headed off to Speakers Corner, an area of London where you can get things off your chest. There is no immunity from prosecution but the police seldom intervene.
I arrived with a copy of the Daily Mail (Daily Fail to my more liberal-minded friends) and a book written by Tom Marcus ,a former Security Service operative, who makes your blood run from the first page of his autobiography.
Perhaps Izzy Folau, the masterful Australian rugby union fullback, would feel free here. Christianity gets frowned upon in London as does Judaism. Perhaps London is not quite as Open as it proclaims to be!.
As former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher said: “People are being stabbed but all I hear is London is Open. Open for what? Knife crime?”
The London many residents were once proud of seems to die a little everyday – like the heroic men who have since survived the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Mr Mayor, if London is truly open, let it be for everyone… not just the metropolitan elite, your Labour Party peers. And let them visit without fear.