As I frustrate myself having spent entirely too long on t’internet trying to find a reasonably priced hotel in our nation’s capital (yeah, keep dreaming love), a little birdie from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce has just sent me a message about their upcoming Bi-Centenary Debate on February 6th.
Apparently the topic concerns where Birmingham is now and where it is heading. So far so maybe-intriguing-but-probably-not. However, Birdie is also asking for involvement from opinionated Brummies and Birmingham-dwelling denizens on the Chamber’s Twitter discussions. The current topic is: Is Britain too London-Centric? Ooooooooo – controversial play by the second city.
Ask this question to most Brits who live outside London and the answer will invariably be a big YES!
Whilst we acknowledge that London’s importance stems from its value as a financial centre (or The Root Of All Evil as I like to think of it), why is the rest of the UK’s contribution to our nation both politically and culturally often ignored?
After a year in which the world went Londinium crazy having been subjected to the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics, the Paralympics and way too many episodes of Made In Chelsea (yep, America’s getting that now – I checked) even though many of these events were not solely located in the capital (MIC was – dear God please don’t let them outside the M25, I’m begging you) London’s ego is bigger than ever. And it was never small, was it?
Our recent wintry weather only lasted a week or two, was probably most severe in the north of England, Wales and Scotland. Yet it didn’t register with the NATIONAL media until London got a few flakes and was then promptly declared an emergency and sparked panic-buying at one or two Islington supermarkets. And this happens EVERY year. It’s snow, it happens, get over it.
I’m also betting that anti-London-centric feelings are pretty high in the face of the hs2 plans. Demolishing villages and swathes of countryside just so that a few wealthy Londoners can shave half an hour off their sporadic journeys to Not-London where they fail to invest their money is not a recipe for flag waving Brits on the banks of the Thames.*
The least our London-based government (again why? Most of the MPs have to commute to far-off constituencies thus increasing expenses. Is the US government based in New York? I think not) can do is increase investment and large scale industry to the rest of the country to make this train-line viable (not the few niche industries that are routinely trotted out to imply British manufacturing is thriving). Many people would welcome some degree of removal from London as our current popular culture demonstrates.
The queen apparently dislikes Buckingham Palace, much preferring to spend her down-time at Windsor Castle or Balmoral. The BBC has shifted much of its administration to Salford. Eastenders lost out to Manchester-based Coronation Street at the Soap Awards.
The testament to this topic is what the rest of the world thinks when they come across you as a Brit. My American mother in law (who has never visited the UK) tells everyone that my husband and I live in London despite years of us correcting her that we live in Birmingham. But she doesn’t perceive Britain as existing outside the magical theme park-like realm that London occupies in the popular imagination.
When I lived abroad (in Italy), people would ask where I was from and I had to approximate it to Stratford Upon Avon or Shakespeare Country, yet still some would ask ‘how far is that from London?’ or worse: ‘is that in London?’
And to be fair who can blame them for thinking that the UK begins and ends with ‘the city that shall not be named’ from here on in this post. We allow everything to revolve around it.
I asked my husband just now to name a great city. He chose Chicago. What makes it a great city? According to him, the following:
– economy (there has to be the chance of success there if it is to attract people).
– good levels of public transport.
– diversity of culture. The city can’t be known for just one thing. Sports teams have to be coupled with theatre and musical pedigree.
– water (it makes any city look more attractive).
– a memorable skyline.
Hmmm, London’s got all those boxes ticked for sure but how is Brum scoring right now? We famously have more canals than Venice (though they could do with a bit of a scrub). The skyline needs a bit of work and this will take decades and undoubted economic recovery both nationwide and from the beleaguered City Council.
Birmingham is of course slowly working on the public transport issue, though it is way behind many other British cities in this regard. It is wonderfully diverse with two top-flight soccer teams, a world-class cricket ground, the ballet, the symphony orchestra, the Welsh National Opera, music venues (a few more would be nice though), the forthcoming Grand Hotel, ever-evolving bar scene, several world-class restaurants, not to mention the wonderful Ladypool Road.
But the major component missing is a blossoming economy and recognisable industry. What does Birmingham do now? A new tech centre maybe? A tax incentive to expand the BBC and bring filming and other media operations to the area? Or maybe this is it and this is as good as it will ever get. But I hope not because the wider Great Britain is still great.
The L-place is fun. But there are many other cities with older buildings, great museums, world-class theatre and Michelin starred restaurants. And they’re all cheaper.
If you have a burning opinion on this subject, why not Tweet it adding the hashtag #chamber200. It may crop up in the Chamber debates and who knows, maybe you’ll plant a seed that will help change our city for the better.
*Crazy thought chaps but why not just use the exsisting older tracks – they just need widening and no one has to lose their home.