Mind The Gap
Outside the station today, people are pavement-preaching with signs reading ‘Mind the (God) Gap’. A quick check reveals they’re an unaffiliated, vague religious group with a website that fails to answer any of the questions they pose. Under ‘Who Are We?’ they offer;
TheLondonGap.com has been created to give Londoners access the good news about Jesus, and the salvation that is available through Him.
I was expecting reams of tiny print, but that’s the sum total of what you get. The site hasn’t been updated for a year, and has categories like ‘Hell’ and ‘Sin’, in which a Bloke With Glasses talks in the most abstract possible terms about redemption while standing in that den of iniquity, Piccadilly Circus.
I stopped by the street people to chat because I thought they were the actual preachers, but they weren’t. They were just several poor hirelings who had been coerced into zero-hours contracts to stand there, presumably by the Bloke In Glasses, who can’t actually be bothered to do his own preaching and has outsourced it. I should have realised this when I saw that they were politely handing out leaflets, not haranguing the pedestrians. It got me thinking about the real London gap. An illustration herewith;
A male friend of mine had a conversation with a female colleague, chatting on the way home from work. They discussed going to the Proms, having tickets for Wimbledon, a weekend in Verona to see an opera, a new restaurant. My friend became paralysed with shame when he remembered that they were in an Uber cab, and their conversation (if listened to, which is unlikely) was the small talk of the 1%. In a city were educationally subnormal kids in the East End are currently dowsing each other in sulphuric acid, he felt ashamed for discussing the arts.
In his head he was passing around a silver salver of larks’ tongues and powdering his periwig while someone of Arabic descent whipped his Hansom horse.
So, is this the hand-wringing of the city’s upper layer or not? A lifestyle is to some extent at least a choice, and we’re talking here about a charitable and kind self-made person who motivated himself to improve his lot in life. As a single man on a good wage setting aside money to go out in London he should surely not need to feel embarrassed about the way in which he passes his free time. Besides, he’s not actually in the 1% – those are the progeny of despotic investors who buy up Candy Brothers apartments and live in tax havens.
There’s no quick fix for this one; In the Victorian social economist Charles Booth’s map of London residents were divided into “Vicious Class”, “Very Poor”, “Lower Middle Class”, “Poor”, “Mixed”, “Middle Class” and “Wealthy”, categories which now feel arbitrary. When newspapers and organisations (Oxfam is the latest to wade in) bandy about the idea that London has slipped back to levels of Victorian inequality I bridle a little, because the latter was judged by a different set of criteria; these included the Poor Laws, health, literacy, separation of market and state, fixed minimum wages, infant mortality, life expectancy (45 years), contagion, crime and many other factors, half of which, like the Corn Laws and the General Enclosure Act, are hardly applicable.
One thing is sure. Since 1993 the working poor have seen substantial loss of income and real wealth. In the latter part of that time it has come to adversely affect the middle class, with university being ruled out due to rising debts, longer working hours, fewer employment opportunities and fewer holidays. Brexit is now biting deep, partly because it lacks a strong government in a position to negotiate. Faith in the PM has entirely evaporated, and the opposition’s inability to make a single clear decision about anything provides no viable alternative.
Mind the gap? The gap will continue to grow for now – with or without the help of the gods.