Margaret Thatcher’s decision to open up London’s financial marketplace to international banks in 1986 revolutionised the purpose of London. Rather than being the capital of Great Britain and the United Kingdom it was to become the global hub for international capital. Not only were the markets opened up to international banks, the international rich were invited into London, to take residence and buy up the housing from the indigenous Londoners. Thatcher wanted to hollow out London, and show the indigenous population out of the city, to make for the international rich.
This process has been maintained and encouraged since Thatcher’s departure, and the process has taken on an increased intensity in the last ten years, without global economic crises and jitters causing more and more of the international rich to move their capital and residencies into London.
The consequence has been that London’s working classes, who have traditionally been ensconced in the areas around central London, e.g. Elephant & Castle and Islington have been bought out, and priced out of the rental market. Those remaining have found all the old traditional forms of life disappear, as trendy cafes’, boutiques and fashion stores, together with an array of convenience stores run by people from all around the world take their place.
It is with a sense of despair that many working class Londoners, left in places, like Islington, see the gradual disappearance of the pub, and the working class culture that fostered within it. Said one such resident, living in Islington:
All the pubs – the local pubs – have shut down and there are these gastropubs where it’s like £5 for a pint. I don’t know who it’s going to get better for in this borough, whether it’s better for…I don’t think for working class people or people on benefits… This little theatre here used to be a pub. I suppose that’s where you can see the people who moved here. When I was a kid there’d be no need. We all went to the cinema, no need for a theatre. It’s £30 for a ticket, I couldn’t afford that. I’m probably not even qualified to work in the café.
In the northern parts of Somers Town, amongst the several pubs which act as their totems and meeting points, the indigenous working class can be found. A man leans out from his balcony in a string vest and smokes a fag. St George’s flags hang from pub and flat windows; desperate signs of a community experiencing a social and psychological death. It has been said that the size of the English working class community in Somers Town has diminished over the last forty years. This process was facilitated by Margaret Thatcher’s policy of allowing people who rented Council Houses to buy the property. In Somers Town many members of the English working class community bought their Council house, sold up and then shipped out. In effect the English working classes started to abandon their own kind.
The spaces left by those who sold-up and shipped out were filled, thanks to private landlords and state policies, with immigrants, students and middle class types. This has meant a dilution of the working class culture in the area. The new arrivals have their own way of doing things, their own interests and friends. For example students on short-term lets have no real interest in investing in local community relationships, and will be gone sooner than they have arrived. Muslims don’t drink. They do Mosques not pubs. The social networks of the English working classes are thus diluted, and their sense of belonging and security diminished. Some hark back, nostalgically. One recalls, ‘Somers Town was lost a long time ago. It had everything you would associate with a working class culture – a street market, greengrocers, fish shops – but these had disappeared by the 1980s. Another says ‘Pubs used to be what brought people together, but they’ve closed now mostly. Used to be good old knees up pubs, family pubs where you knew people and you kept on eye on each other’s kids playing outside’.