Week in Review: The attack on London

There is always a surge in pride in the wake of a terror attack, a kind of emotional recalibration to neutralise the hatred you just witnessed. We've seen it since the events in Westminster on Wednesday, as we did after the 7/7 bombings. But it seems different now. Unlike in 2005, it feels almost strange to hear people praise London. Over the last few years, London has become the great enemy.

Islamic extremists, it goes without saying, hate it. London represents what they most fear, the idea that people from different cultures can live side-by-side. It represents the idea of mixture, which strikes fear into a puritan's heart. The list of nationalities injured in the attack bears the point out: three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish person, a Chinese citizen, one Italian, one American and two Greeks. He drove that car down one London street and those were the people walking along it.

But terrorists are not the capital's only enemies, they are simply its most murderous. It has many others, from the religious to the secular, from the left to the right.

In the wake of the attack, Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins made her own hatred clear. "An entire city of monkeys," she wrote. "The patriots of the rest of England versus the liberals in this city. The war is between London and the rest of the country."

These criticisms do not take place in isolation. They are part of a web of attacks on London and what it represents. For months now we have heard nothing but anger at this city. How easily now the words 'liberal metropolitan elite' are used, as if only the super-rich live here, quaffing champagne and truffles in a gold limo on their way to a banking job.

To anyone in the city, it is an absurd charge. Millions struggle to get by. The super rich are a vanishingly slim minority. The rest have to fight to make a London life work, usually by consigning themselves to cramped housing and a pitiless commute. That is the price they are willing to pay to live in a city which feels like the centre of the world, a place where they have a shot at making it in their chosen field, where they will be surrounded with dynamic, interesting people.

But they are not allowed to express pride in their city. That would be elitist. To the left it shows cultural superiority and a lack of concern for the left-behinds, as if loving an area must always be at the expense of those around it. But it is possible to care about post-industrial areas, or fading seaside towns, or those struggling elsewhere in the country, while still loving the city in which you live. Love for one's community is not a zero-sum game. It does not take away an equivalent amount of love for somewhere else. This basic failure of reasoning is one of the reasons that the British left has always struggled to understand or harness patriotism.

To the right, London has become a euphemism for 'uncontrolled' immigration and to support immigration is to be a rich elitist. This is the way they try to shut you up now.

A dangerous new language has taken over, where the word 'white' nearly always precedes the phrase 'working class'. This has the effect of racialising class categories, as if no ethnic minority is ever poor or works in manual labour, and as if all the rich are liberal multiculturalists. It is a libel against the working class and a pathetically generous misrepresentation of the wealthy. It suggests that ethnic minorities do not face the same pressure as the working man - that they are somehow different.

If they are different, they are the Other. And that is a story which does not end well.

This narrative also erases the reality of thousands of working class people in London. Just look at the many campaigns that have sprung up on council estates all over the capital. These groups are made up of residents who live side by side with people from all over the world. They do not take to the streets to demonstrate against their foreign neighbour. They are out there calling for secure and affordable housing.

Over the last few weeks you could barely switch on the radio or TV without hearing fawning praise of David Goodhart's book on 'anywhere people', the tribe of supposed global liberals with no connection whatsoever with where they live. Goodhart is a smart and thoughtful man, but it is telling how heavily promoted his book is. This intellectual current has been flowing strongly in the higher echelons of debate for months, not least when Theresa May launched  her criticism of "citizens of the world".  The attack on London comes from grubby hard-right columnists and praised intellectuals, from the man on the street to the prime minister herself.

To be cosmopolitan is now considered a crime. To believe in diversity is considered hopelessly naive.

Since Brexit, the entire cultural proposition that London entails has come under sustained assault. It is the totem of immigration and the open society and it must therefore be toppled.

There are so many lies they are impossible to count, on housing and wages and diversity and investment. They are useful lies for the powers that be, because they frame failures of government policy as the fault of immigrants. But the big lie, the one which towers above all others, is the false dichotomy between Britain and multiculturalism, between London and the country it sits in.

London's character is a result of the British personality. It does not exist outside of it. Only a country of Britain's cultural and historic confidence could host a city as open as London.  Or at least, a country which used to have that confidence. Now we are fragile and easily offended, terrified of change and yearning for the good old days.

But the truth is that there are no 'anywhere people'. The liberal metropolitans in London reflect Britishness. They are of their country, as London is of Britain. There is no 'white working class' versus 'wealthy cosmopolitan liberals'. These groups do not exist. There are wealthy people with a variety of views and working class people with a variety of views. There are immigrants who want less immigration and working class white people who want more. If those who bang on about 'living in the real world' did not live in their own echo chambers they would know that a single conversation about politics - inside or outside London - reveals more strange, unpredictable opinions than the mainstream public discourse can possible include or comprehend.

Over the last few days, the response to the Westminster attack has shown a great upswell in pride in the city. But look at how that was reflected: through instinctively British expressions of stiff-upper-lip sentiment, arched-eyebrow irony, gallows humour and up-yours mischievousness. The fake Tube billboard about tea sums it up, regardless of whether its author was a London Underground worker or someone online. The London spirit is fundamentally imbued with how Britain sees itself, because London is a British expression of multiculturalism. It is conditioned by the British concern for privacy, tolerance, stability and aversion to authority.

The wake of an attack is like a friend getting ill. It provides a moment in which to remember what it is that you love about them. Before the news agenda moves on, we should take this opportunity to recognise what there is to love about London and commit to protecting it in the perilous period to come.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk. His book - Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? - is available now from Canbury Press.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Our calm response to the terror attack shows how well London works

It's funny how terrorists and the culture-war right share the same narrative. From different sides of the battleline, they both speak of chaos and a global battle between the West and Islam.

In the wake of the terror attack in Westminster yesterday, Katie Hopkins jumped onto Fox News to insist that "people are afraid and people are not united". Nigel Farage went on the same channel to blame "uncontrolled immigration from Middle Eastern countries". Former Ukip donor Aaron Banks made much the same point, portraying the country as out of control due to immigration. Former EDL leader Tommy Robinson rushed out to Westminster to pin the blame on Islam.

The irony is that yesterday actually showed that London responds very well to terror attacks. There was not, as Hopkins implied, panic on the streets. People went about their lives with considerable calm given the severity of the events. The terror attack did not put the fear into the public that she seemed to feel. Hopkins clearly has a very timid disposition.

For those fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by the attack, events like yesterday are predominantly about where to look. You can look at the attacker and his murderous lunacy. You can look at the culture warriors pushing the same storyline as the attackers. You can look to the strangely shrivelled-up souls popping up across Twitter, intent on using the event to score cheap political points.

Or you can look at the police officers who run towards danger. You can look to the officer, Keith Palmer, who literally gave his life to protect British parliamentary democracy. You can look to the medical staff who rushed out from St Thomas' Hospital to care for the injured.

You can look at the systems put in place to protect people in the event of an attack. As soon as it started, the systems came online. Parliament was locked down. MPs, journalists and staff mingled together in halls, or were shut in their offices. The prime minister was rushed towards safety. These actions are the result of careful preparation, not hysteria or emotional outbursts. They are about diligent planning, rather than hysteria.

It also showed the emotional and moral resilience of our society. When the attacker was shot yesterday, he received the same medical attention as the police officer he killed. That felt strange for some. It is a testament to the civilised nature of this country that there is no judgement on medical need in emergency service response. The worst of us are treated along with the best of us.

But it is not just about principles, it is also practical. It is a shame the attacker could not be saved. If he had been, we could have got more information from him, found accomplices, learnt more about his methods and put him on trial.

Hardly anyone, online or on the street, used the events of yesterday to blame Islam or immigration for what had taken place. People know that no population can ever be really controlled. There is no evidence the attacker was an immigrant, but even if he was, there is no way to stop these sorts of events short of stopping all immigration. Very often, as in the attack on Jo Cox during the Brexit referendum, the attackers are British citizens. We can't rule out their attacks without locking everyone in their homes every day.

In any society, there will be madmen and there will be thugs and bastards. There is no cure for this. All we have in our defence are the systems we put in place to stop them and the attitude we bring to our society. Do we seize on these events to further our political agenda? Do we emphasise the same narrative as the terrorists, of a culture war between societies bringing our country to its knees? Or do we enact the systems we have in place, carry on without fluster and abide by our values? The reality is that most Londoners have done precisely this.

Yesterday's attack was a tragedy and an outrage. But the response to it should reassure us about the nature of our country and the quality of the people in it.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk. His book - Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? - is available now from Canbury Press.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

May would be mad to hold a snap general election

The chatter over a snap general election refuses to go away. It first built up during the Tory leadership contest. Then again before the Budget, until Philip Hammond's self-employed NICs policy suggested the government was very much not in election mode. And now it arises once more, with reports of a May 4th date.

The election almost certainly won't happen. If it did happen, it would not help the country or the prime minister.

Of course, the temptation is there. Labour could be utterly destroyed. They have no leadership, no strategy, no basic thinking going on at the top of the party at all. They are an empty room. Their right wing is largely without ideas, their left wing is completely insane, and they have entryists trying to finally take full control. They are there for the taking.

May also currently enjoys the support of the right-wing press, on the basis that she is delivering Brexit. She could take the opportunity now to get an election under her belt with that support set in stone. After March 2019 the dynamics will be different and, with Brexit less of an issue, that backing cannot be taken for granted.

No.10 could conclude that a snap general election might consolidate her hold on power. It would get rid of the troublesome Tory backbenchers on the party's extreme and moderate wings who are increasingly bullish about that small majority of hers. It would allow her to go to Brussels with a strong public mandate for talks. And it wouldn't even use up that much negotiating time - French and German elections are distracting European leaders in the first six months of Article 50 anyway. Britain could quickly slip another election under the table and come up smiling in time for substantive talks in the autumn.

But the incentives on May are more complicated than this. She would be unwise to pursue a general election. And if she did pursue it, it would not help in Article 50. It would make things worse.

One of the first things May ever said as a Tory leadership candidate was that there would be no election until 2020. Since then she has successfully cultivated a no-nonsense image of firm-thwack-of-strong-matron decision-making. Her actions have actually been hopelessly fudged and strategically counter-productive, but this image has stuck and is delivering her very strong poll results. She has been highly successful - much to the dismay of people like myself - in using this to present hard Brexit as the only intuitive response to the referendum result.

Holding an election would put all that hard reputational work at risk. She would be asked why she is U-turning on one of her very first promises. She would be asked why a mandate for Brexit was required now, just as she launches Article 50 negotiations, when it wasn't before, in the long half year she had to play with since becoming Tory leader. She'd be asked why she thinks she has no mandate for Brexit, given she just succeeded in getting the Article 50 bill through parliament unamended. She would be asked what had changed and her only convincing answers would be self-serving.

And all the while she would be getting into the really murky mechanics of the Fixed-Term Parliament Act. She'd need to call a vote of no-confidence in her own government, one which some of her own MPs might not support. Try explaining that to the man on the Clapham omnibus. Or she could be seeking two-thirds support in the Commons, which she might get or might not, given the way the Labour civil war has mixed up opposition MPs' incentives.

If the British public are asked to go to the polls, they are entitled to expect that there is a good reason for it. In the last few years they've voted on AV, the Scots on independence once and now possibly again, the 2015 general election and the Brexit referendum. That's rather a lot. A prime minister asking them to do so again better make sure they do not think it is for self-interested reasons. But it would be hard to escape that impression on the basis of May's own record.

This might be a risk worth taking. But what would May get at the end of that process? A defeat might force Jeremy Corbyn to step down and that would be a disaster for the government. Faced with a troublesome parliamentary Conservative party and a human vacuum as an opposition leader, May would be sensible to pick the human vacuum. His presence expands her room to manoeuvre more than a small majority decreases it. Even on her own terms, a snap election makes no sense.

Putting May's personal fortunes aside for one moment, would having an election be in the national interest? After all, reducing the power of Tory backbenchers would mean the John Redwoods and the Bill Cashs of the world have less influence over the prime minister. This could buy her room to make more concessions to Europe and therefore emerge with a better deal - or avoid risking a no-deal scenario. Perhaps even Brexit critics should support it.

This is all true, as far as it goes, but an election would also reduce the power of moderate Tory figures. These MPs, with some honourable exceptions, have been cowed into silence on Brexit (although not on other matters, like the Dubs amendment, sex education and grammar schools). That might not last long however. As the economic effects start to bite over the course of Article 50 and the constitutional ramifications become day-to-day news, they may discover their bravery once more. There are two sides to the slim-majority coin.

The reality is that May's real concern is not Tory backbenchers. It is the right wing press. They back her only on the basis that she will deliver hard Brexit. You can see how quickly she folds when they turn against her, as over the Budget. And the press will not change at a general election. The incentives on her will therefore remain largely unchanged, except that she will be able to claim that the election result is a double-mandate for hard Brexit, when in fact it is a mandate for 'not-Corbyn'.

Holding an election now, at the exact moment we trigger Article 50, would also use up valuable negotiating time in Europe and reduce our already precarious standing with European leaders. Sure, France and Germany are distracted, but those elections have been on the schedule for a long time. For a country to initiate talks and then suddenly retreat into a domestic election campaign would be viewed as deranged and solipsistic - both charges the UK already faces in Brussels. It also rules out any attempt to secure meaningful talks before the German elections are over.

There is simply no level at which the snap election idea makes sense. It is barmy. In today's political climate that of course does not rule it out. But the reality is that it wouldn't do the prime minister any good and it wouldn't do the country any good either.

Update 11:45am: Shortly after this article was published, the prime minster's spokesperson confirmed there would be no snap general election, saying: "There isn't going to be one."

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk. His book - Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? - is available now from Canbury Press.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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