In London, we’ll proudly keep our differences, not dissolve them
London remains a beacon of multicultural diversity where difference is not simply “tolerated”, but celebrated as a positive force for good. We should continue, "opening up London", and make sure we retain the cultural diversity, peace and prosperity that make the city great, writes Rupa Huq MP.
Some of the most memorable and successful political slogans of recent years sadly reflect a creeping rightward splendid isolationism. The 2016 referendum campaign boasted, “Take back control”, and “Breaking point”, suggesting that things had got out of control and that millions of Turks would land on our shores any minute. Later that year across the Atlantic Trump triumphed with “Make America Great Again”, which many read as thinly disguised code for “make America white again”, and the similarly globalisation-denying “America first”.
As well as the rightwing rhetoric there have been some snappy examples from stage left: similarly easy to grasp but the complete antithesis of pulling the drawbridge up. There’s “for the many, not the few” the manifesto title which led to Labour almost drawing level with the ruling Tories in the 2017 election. Also a winner is Sadiq Khan’s “London is open”, more relevant than ever as the latest Brexit deadline looms nearer.
Alas since 2016, public debate and discourse has become divisive not decisive in a never-ending stalemate. Brexit has polarised and poisoned politics, caused party splits at the highest level, factionalised families and divided our nation.
Amidst all the constitutional chaos and political turmoil upon us London nonetheless remains a beacon of multicultural diversity where difference is not simply “tolerated” to use the patronising term but celebrated as a positive force for good. The old cliché (originally Samuel Johnson in 1777) goes that if one is bored of London they are bored of the world. The frenetic pace of change makes it a dynamic place, where the city never sleeps.
This giddiness also applies to its suburbs as well as its centre. Beyond the stock image that springs to mind of Big Ben the 32 boroughs are the most exciting bits of it, particularly areas beyond its core. Ealing where I grew up and now represent has long been a hotbed of creative talent from its world famous film studios to being where the Who first formed and Rolling Stones played their early gigs. Acton which I also represent is home to a new generation: like Jamal Edwards who was a child millionaire as a YouTube star and James of guitar band the Vamps. I’ve come across both as their MP recently. The two of them are hungry to be involved in local community initiatives, putting back into their neighbourhoods, the antithesis of the usual stereotypes of “the youth of today” or even self-obsessed celebrities.
My own seat is super-diverse even by London standards. We have churches, mosques, synagogues and a Hindu temple. My parents settled in the 60s from pre-independence Bangladesh but as well as Indian subcontinent we have a Japanese school and more recent arrivals include the Somalis, both from Somalia and Somaliland – showing internal diversity within as well as between communities. The seat is also home to 13,000 EU nationals. The nearby Andre Malraux school and direct tube to South Kensington have made it popular with the French and since the wartime government in exile in London, Ealing has been called the most Polish place on earth outside Poland - a history long predating 2004 EU expansion.
This Saturday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan opens ‘We Are All Londoners: Celebrating our European Culture and Communities’, an event at City Hall. It’s a fitting way to pay tribute to our nearest neighbours, our friends from the EU27 from a mayor who unlike his old Etonian predecessor who’s further scaled the greasy pole since encapsulates our capital city.
Parliament may have been prorogued but the dizzying array of cultures comprising the melting pot that makes up London’s myriad of communities won’t be. And we’ll proudly keep our differences too, not dissolve them into some amorphous blob. Let’s continue opening up London and make sure whatever happens we above all retain the cultural diversity, peace and prosperity that all add up to this great city’s capital gains.
Rupa Huq is Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton.
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