Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One London?

I spent three magical days playing with the sparkling ocean this week end. When the limitless time eventually ran out I squeezed a stolen moment from the empty tube. I stayed Monday night and rose before the birds to join the motorised sheep on their early morning trawl along the tarmac road which joins the smog to the sea.

As I struggled with my sleeping eyes the blanket that was the sky above shrank to a rag which I plucked from the air and wrapped up safely until I had a moment to find it again. My shimmering heart began to fade as I thought about the city ahead; the miniscule vistas and the tubes of steel burrowing their way through the earth transporting huddled commuters to their soulless desks.

But as the traffic became more dense and the sheep slowed to a crawl I started to peer into the capsules beside me. As I studied the passing faces a feeling of being surrounded by my familiar home started to awake. Much as the proximity of the sea fills me with a glowing warmth there is a sparseness in the uniform whiteness of the people who surround it that drains the depth out of it’s deep blue hue.

The faces I saw as I neared the metropolis filled me with a different kind of comfort. The monochrome was replaced with colour and energy, there was life in their diversity and I remembered what it was that kept drawing me back to my north London flat.

As I was driven along Piccadilly in a black London cab this afternoon a row of blinking banners flashed before my eyes. ‘One London’ they proclaimed in a typographic puzzle of black and red. The message was clear but I recoiled at its meaning. There is nothing ‘One’ about this city of ours and that is why it is so great.

I emerged from the tube this evening and wandered through my local streets along a well trodden route. The ‘Finsbury Bite’ announced it’s speciality in African and Caribbean food, across the road sat the ‘Delight Kebab House’ and firmly planted on the opposite corner was ‘The Happening Bagel Bakery’. They know their place, they understand their market and they carry out their trade side by side.

I do not want to live in a city where we are all ‘One’. I love the differences and the energy which is generated by their juxtapositions. Last week Ruth Kelly launched the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. When I walk through Finsbury Park (a former terrorist heartland) I see nothing but integration and cohesion as people mingle in the dusk.

Of course there are problems, but they are not new. We all have a natural distrust of what we don’t know. This city is divided by north and south as is this island we live on. The world is divided by east and west, rich and poor, black and white, catholic and protestant, dark brown and light brown, African and Caribbean, Muslim and Jewish, male and female; the divisions are exponential in their scale. They have always been there and they always will be. A banner is not going to obliterate the divides.

Fancy graphics and lip service commissions are not going to change our perception of each other. There is much to be done to achieve Kelly’s remit of ironing out the tensions created by our differences. That the tensions are there we cannot deny, but they are not the only reason for the extremism which is growing in this society. We are skimming the surface if we let ourselves believe that. The roots are deeper and far more complex than the Government want to admit.

If we are truly going to beat terrorism and extremism then we need to find the core. To do that we are going to have to dig deeper than any Government has done before. To get there we need to look at every ingredient of the foaming cocktail before us. Integration and cohesion are the herbs in the pot, the real meat is to be found with education and foreign policy.

We do not want this London of ours to be ‘One’ we are only asking that it is a place we can live without fear of young men blowing themselves up beside us.