What the Evening Standard's definition of London tells us about the capital

What the Evening Standard's definition of London tells us about the capital

Some thoughts on the Evening Standard's coverage of this week's bus workers' strike.

I read the Evening Standard at length on Tuesday night because, during the bus drivers’ strike over wages, public transport was juddering and faltering and getting home after work was even more annoying than usual. Perhaps the delays were thanks to the strike, or maybe it was just standard TFL crappiness exacerbated by it.

Whatever – I was reading it as I do fairly often, and I found the ‘paper’s editorial on the bus strike pretty revealing. “London cannot afford today’s bus strike”, read the headline. You only have to look at how many copies are left on the seats of the tube to know the impact the Standard has on the capital city – that its conception of what “London” is actually carries some weight. If you're not from London, imagine a really high proportion of people read a mixture of the Times and the Daily Mail because it's free.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting how firebrand and tub-thumpy it would sound, in normal media discourse, if a paper said, “The working class can’t afford these poverty wages”. But the Standard’s appeal to local, rather than class identity doesn’t sound weird at all.

Its definition of London tells us a lot about about where the city is being taken. The bus strike was about stopping wild fluctuations in drivers’ pay over different operators. One driver, writing in the Standard’s sister paper the Independent said this had meant his pay had fallen by £2.50 per hour over the last 15 years. At a time when the “cost of living crisis” is a thing acutely felt in London, who exactly is “cannot afford” the bus strike? London, apparently. So if bus drivers are not London who or what is?

Perhaps the answer lies in the numerous property pages, out the next day. Wednesday’s Standard is significantly heftier than normal, because in the middle there are tens of pages of adverts for properties I’m unlikely to ever afford, punctuated only by fatuous articles on the latest property “trends” from property correspondent David Spittles (the trends of gentrification or homelessness never gets a look in), and pictures articles where arseholes show off the expensive architecture of their beautifully designed, immaculate homes (surely these are smuggest people in the entire world).

Many of the properties on sale have probably been dumped on some now demolished social housing, the residents of which have been moved further out of London. Certainly, they’re completely out of reach to the striking bus drivers and the people who most need busses – poor workers who can’t afford the tube. Even if we accept that the property pages are necessarily going to be commercial in nature, the rest of the ‘papers reporting on state-led gentrification and housing poverty has been less than overwhelming, given that these are things that are currently changing the face of a city that it claims to represent, perhaps for ever.

So, the vision of London that the Standard presents is one in which impoverished bus drivers ferry impoverished workers from their far-away homes into the city to clean the toilets and floors of offices. The office workers – perhaps working for the sociopathic “regeneration” industry – are sound in the knowledge that their kids can get to school on time, safe from any uppity bus drivers who have silly ideas about collective action causing what the Standard calls “deep inconvenience”. This allows for their London to function – the London of staggering inequality, obnoxious wealth, homelessness, penthouses, chronic stress and dickhead pop-up shops selling just enough expensive coffee to keep the whole show on the road. On Wednesday’s BBC Newsnight in a discussion about the super rich, the Standard’s editor Sarah Sands showed how in touch with poor Londoners by saying, “I think what’s troubling to people, it’s true, is that discrepancy between wealth, in the end, seems a little bit unhealthy.” Some of her readers have heard about poverty and they don’t like the idea of it.

Londoners don’t have to accept this depressing state of affairs. The Standard has identified the wider significance of the bus strike in the battle to define this city. It’s up to Londoners to reclaim their city and their identity. And that starts by supporting bus drivers in their struggle. If the rave-picket in Camberwell is anything to go by, it could be far more fun than being on time for work.

Posted By

Jambon Bertolli
Jan 16 2015 18:44


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Jacques Roux
Jan 16 2015 19:37

Great read thanks.

When you say:

The office workers – perhaps working for the sociopathic “regeneration” industry

... you have to link to THAT Redrow video... http://vimeo.com/115968280

Jan 16 2015 19:44

Good piece, thanks for writing. The Standard is shite. But loads of people read it because it's free (I used to when I used to get the tube…)

Something I always encourage my fellow workers to do on transport strike days is to use it as an excuse to sleep in and get in to work late, as it's basically a freebie excuse (and if any of your colleagues live locally and share away in, collude and both do it so you don't get caught out!)

Jan 17 2015 16:01

Also, the editorial had the cheek to note that the single bus fare had increased by two-thirds since 2008 and so any rise in wages for bus drives would harm the poorest. In 2008 Boris Johnson was elected and the paper backed him. So their candidate is responsible for these rises. And did the paper complain at the time about these rises by its favourite son? Of course not.

Which is why I call the rag The Evening Boris.

Its cover of any budget is equally skewed -- always the top 10% (earnings in the hundreds of thousands) or employers, bar the occasional student or unemployed person not claiming benefits.

The paper of the 1% given free to the 99% -- sometimes some of the articles seem like they have been written to rub our faces in it.