London in recent times has been given various names by admirers and critics.
Both the New York Times and the Economist have recently referred to London as Reykjavik-on-Thames, since like the Icelandic capital London is home to a stricken financial industry which once underpinned the economy. But this is only one of many names that London has been given by commentators both here and aboard. In the late 1990s, as New Labour’s pact with the City with its light touch on regulation took effect, London become known as Manhattan-on-Thames to financiers and architects. For others, like the French anti-terrorist police who were angry at the alleged relaxed manner of dealing with Islamist extremists, it became known as Londonistan. Another name, Londongrad, was adopted in response to the influx of flamboyant Russians and the servicing of their extravagant lifestyles.
Yet, for all these pseudonyms, which reflect the many aspects of life in central London, Londoners should regard the metropolis as simply London-on-Thames. If anything, the issue to hand is that not enough Londoners identify with London, particularly those in the suburbs, where people talk about going “into” or “up to” London to work or shop, and do not think of themselves as actually living in London – when in truth these areas have long been captured by the great metropolis that London-on-Thames has become. The “doughnut effect”, with the inhabitants of predominantly white suburbia seeing themselves as separate and apart from multi-ethnic, multicultural areas of inner London, was successfully exploited by Boris Johnson in last year’s mayoral election.
This division between inner and outer London is strangely reflected in the postal codes for Greater London, which in the suburbs are still the old county codes for Kent, Surrey, Middlesex and Essex. Even one of Boris Johnson’s deputies, Ian Clement, has been apologetic about having a Kent postcode while representing London. So is it not time to put an end to this historical anomaly and change these postal codes to London ones? Well, that would be a change and a half and something developers would no doubt be keen on, as they are the agents of redefining areas as part of London more often then anyone else. It could perhaps make a symbolic contribution to undermining the mentality behind the doughnut effect.
That said, let’s be grateful that after their invasion in AD 43 the Romans moved the provincial administration from Camulodunum to Londinium, otherwise the capital might still be in Colchester, Essex, and almost certainly not the global centre we are today.