The term Ecumenopolis was invented by the Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis in 1967. It imagined a future world where urban areas combined to make a single, global state. This was refined to a European version- an amalgamation of London, Paris, Amsterdam and the Ruhr region of Germany into a powerful urban state. The idea of a cosmopolitan collection of global hubs with shared values fighting against its rural neighbours holds more relevance than ever in the aftermath of Britain’s decision to abandon the EU project.
Since the early hours of 24th June, inner city Londoners have reacted angrily, howling in dismay at the parochialism of Britain’s rurality. The decision for the UK to leave the EU, leaving to one side the matter of Article 50 and the problematic nature of its initiation, will no doubt affect the likelihood for global firms to locate headquarters in London and distort the image of the capital as a progressive, incredibly open place to live. But should, as one of the many petitions issued recently suggests, London break away from its peripheral regions and form its own city state?
The economic argument is relatively clear; London contributes more to the UK economy than Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales combined and would have a GDP exceeding that of Sweden or Switzerland as it its own state. The benefits of such an agreement for London would be the ability to cut off tax revenues currently siphoned off to parts of the UK in more urgent need of investment. Infrastructure would focus on the global rather than the domestic, potentially enhancing London’s status as an international hub. Hong Kong and Singapore function as business-friendly global cities albeit with widely different political and social contexts. There is an argument to say that the UK’s dependence on the financial sector is largely due to London’s comparative success, meaning a clean break would potentially allow the rest of the country to focus more on manufacturing in order to restore some lost identity to northern towns.
The question also remains as to where one would draw the line. ‘London’ is now an ambiguous entity of around 8 million people, spreading out and beyond the M25 with an electorate of varying economic opportunities and political tendencies. It is often forgotten that London has both Britain wealthiest and most deprived local authorities and a move to independence may well lead to these inequalities becoming more apparent. Barking & Dagenham for example voted in favour of Brexit in a 62-38 majority as opposed to Islington which voted 79% in favour of remain.
Perhaps this binary question is after all missing the point altogether. The suggestion for London to become an independent state is not the result of lucid, strategic planning but a rejection of the rest of the country – an emotional reaction similar to that which has caused so much hatred and anger towards leave voters. Perhaps one of the most misleading and simplistic conclusions from the referendum is that of a rich, globally orientated London compared with an impoverished periphery. While elements of this have validity, it also fails to register the disconnection among London voters themselves and the levels of poverty within London which largely goes unnoticed on a national level.
London is already an established international city, inhabited by a young, mobile population and the question of its independence from the rest of the UK was a valid one even before the wheels of the Brexit steamroller began turning. The political freefall which has taken place in Westminster over the past two weeks has compounded the emotional impacts of the decision, resulting in a reaction by global financial markets in accordance with the pre-referendum predictions. Dismissed as scaremongering over the course of the campaign, the moving of financial services jobs from London to Paris, Dublin or Frankfurt are now in uncomfortably plain view.
This will of course please those aiming to ‘stick it’ to the establishment, a result stemming from the post-2008 condition which lingers on across Europe. Not only has the result of the referendum had a psychological effect on those EU citizens currently living and working in the UK but also created the potential for a less documented out-migration of skilled UK workers to Europe and beyond.
Whether or not this becomes anything more than fiction remains to be seen, but merely the level of discussion on this issue reveals the appetite for change in the capital.