The spirit of London is a ride in a ‘black cab’ that takes you on a journey back in time through the history of London from Sir Francis Drake, Shakespeare, wars, famines, the blitz, the swinging sixties etc.
The point of that brief but magical ride is: The spirit of London prevails despite all that it encounters ...
Since the first time I saw it, many years ago, it has remained unchanged and I have seen it many times when I take visitors to Madame Taussads
Ironically, over the last three months, I happened to see the same ride thrice.
Once with my son, then with my sister when she was here from India and finally with my godson, when he was here from Germany.
After seeing it three times in as many months, I was getting a bit bored of it ..
But today, that ‘spirit of London’ has taken on a new meaning ..
The last week has witnessed unprecedented scenes of riots in London
The riot, as the great Dr Martin Luther King said, is the voice of the unheard ..
But the revered Dr King was referring to human rights and not the ‘right’ of the rioters to help themselves to designer shoes and HD TVs
Being born in India, and having seen real poverty, there is something strange about watching these rioters helping themselves to designer branded goods i.e. they are not helping themselves to ‘food’. (And in a curious twist, the homeless who probably do really lack food, are not rioting!)
In most parts of the world, poverty means ‘no food’.
These riots was not poverty driven
Strangely, in a span of a few weeks, we have gone from Royal weddings to riots.
But the spirit of London is strong in my view
As someone who runs a niche business in London, I am happy to call myselves a ‘capitalist’.
By that I mean, a capitalist is a ‘cathedral builder’ – someone who looks at a block of stone and adds value to it to build a cathedral.
And the strength of London, and its spirit, rests in that basic ‘creator’ ethos over the millennia
By capitalists, I mean the businesses like 150 year old House of Reeves, which was burnt down, but I am sure will rise from its ashes stronger with the support of the community and the small Turklish shopkeepers who defended their businesses
While even the likes of Robert Mugabe has taken it upon themselves to remind us that there are ‘no fires in Zimbabwe’ (but we should remind him that there are no free elections in Zimbabwe either!), this is a time to remind us of the spirit of London.
Finally, I cannot ignore the role of ‘mobile’ and ‘ad hoc networks’ in this riot.
What to make of the malevolent ‘flashmob’ driven by Blackberry messengers?
Mobile devices and technology are tools but they lead to fundamental changes in society (and I have been saying this in my books and blogs for a while – Would you hire a woman who maintained a f**k book in college and The girl named Facebook: The Russians (and the Egyptians and the Libyans and the Tunisians and ..) love their children too ).
Specifically, Internet related technologies are breaking down hierarchies and creating fluid, often ad-hoc networks, for better or for worse.
While our prime minister calls for a ‘fightback’ (and people in the UK will support any such efforts), the reality is: We are living in a new era where politicians are demonstrably less empowered.
What is the solution?
Maybe a decentralization of power and a reduction of hierarchy (aka – a more network oriented governance) – and there is already talk of that idea – In this crisis, our cities need local leaders with real power and even ultimately to a more Swiss canton like system of government ?
This debate will continue but I believe that the spirit of London will prevail and will see us to a great Olympics in a year’s time
Image – Madame Taussads