Today’s confirmed cancellation of one of Boris Johnson’s most infamous mayoral vanity projects – the so-called ‘Thames garden bridge’ – has been greeted with satisfaction by Londoners who have an interest in promoting the interests of the 95%. The plan – which will never now be implemented – cost the taxpayer £37,000,000.
If Boris Johnson could have physically manifested his enormous ego, it would have either been through the construction of this coniferous crossing or one of his other whacky, ludicrously expensive proposals, such as a Thames Estuary airport. Thankfully, Sadiq Khan is now Mayor of London and Boris Johnson’s dream of becoming prime minister is looking more fantastical by the day.
There is a bigger point in this deliverance. It proves quite how out-of-touch many of our leading politicians are with the economic plight of millions of ordinary Britons. How could our now foreign secretary, who was Mayor of London while its 32 boroughs were being forced to halve their budgets, have thought that this was a suitable use of public funds? More to the point – how could he have got so close to succeeding?
Satisfaction with our political settlement could not sink much lower. The last three general elections have produced two hung parliaments – an ugly record for both Labour and the Conservatives. Federalism is proposed as one part of the solution by this publication and others, but the previous Mayor of London’s Caligulan reign over the Capital proved that if power is diverted away from Westminster, it must be diverted towards the people, not into the clammy hands of raging egoists.
I must confess that I personally found the bridge’s design aesthetically pleasing. In a perfect world, with unlimited resources, such a construction would be welcome. It is true, also, that art and culture should not be sacrificed on the altar of austerity. But neither should hospitals, schools and jobs. Austerity – like that doomed bridge – is a political choice.
Britain in 2017 represents neither a perfect world nor a country blessed with unlimited resources. It is getting poorer and more unequal by the day. The people come first, which should be obvious to our politicians – but Brexit does not seem to have delivered the necessary wake-up call to the Establishment, some of whom are now advocating for a UK ‘Democrat’ party, fronted by celebrities and austerity politicians.
It is to be hoped that the forestalled garden bridge serves as a reminder for how little needed hubris is at this of all times. The country faces some of the greatest challenges ever put before it. In the short to medium term – Brexit. In the longer term, automation, and the threat of millions of jobs lost to robots, with all the disastrous consequences that would entail for the labour interest.
A huge vacuum has opened up in the centre of British politics. It will not be filled either by Boris Johnson’s ego, or by a ‘Democrat’ party. It will be filled by the party which can best represent the labour interest as we continue to march through this new age of extremes.
A bridge to a new politics will soon need to be crossed. We will need serious people and serious ideas to reach the garden on the other side, not pygmy politicians and rich men’s fantasies.