Ben Judah’s new book This Is London is an exhilarating account of the British capital as a nerve centre of global culture and of a metropolis transformed by the effects of mass immigration.
Judah embeds himself with Roma beggars in Hyde Park, Romanians labourers in a North Circular doss house, and African ‘pickers’ (cleaners) slogging through the late shift on the Tube. He “doesn’t trust statistics” and so insists on soaking these experiences in at first hand. His writing is visceral, and at its best echoes the immersive style of the great Polish reporter and author Ryszard Kapuściński.
Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Owen Jones attacked the idea that English politics is split along north-south lines as a “myth” and a “distraction.” Given rates of poverty and inequality in the south of England are as high as they are in the north (higher, in some cases), “how much really divides the call centre worker in Hull from the supermarket shelf-stacker in Chelmsford?,” Jones asked.
It’s a legitimate point, and one familiar to anyone involved in the debate over Scottish independence. One of the clichés of Scottish unionism – particularly Scottish Labour unionism – is that a worker on minimum wage in Dundee has more in common with another minimum wage worker in Manchester than he or she does with a top-rate tax-payer in Edinburgh.