Virtually every traditional children’s nursery rhyme sung in crèches across the land has its origins in a gruesome medieval tale of woe – Ringa Rosie is an early warning system for bubonic plague symptoms; London Bridge is Falling Down stems from a brutal Viking attack; and Mary Mary Quite Contrary is an account of the otherwise charming Queen Mary’s tendency for homicidal rages.
Not quite what we had in mind for our pride and joy’s innocent ears – but rest assured this blog has no intention of politically correcting 600 years of tradition.
But in the midst of all that nursery school carnage is a traditional storybook icon who is a perfect metaphor for our times.
Dick Whittington and his Cat is the quintessential tale of an economic migrant who ups-sticks from a poor rural existence to seek his fortune on the gold-paved streets of London. And seek that fortune he does, with great success, being re-elected as London Mayor with an ease that makes Boris Johnson look like a peroxide pretender.
It’s a tale that inspired many a migrant from ‘the provinces’ and subsequently fuelled London’s creative fire for centuries. And there is a collectively smug confidence that this economic production line of talented labour will continue unabated.
In fact a journalist with the renowned Economist magazine infamously argued that we should accelerate the Dick Whittington process by abandoning struggling northern towns and moving their people to thriving economic centres – such as London. The roars of disapproval from all quarters were deafening. Their outrage was directed at the writer and his ill-conceived proposal because it was deemed cruel, uncaring and dismissive. But he wasn’t entirely wrong – the concept of a failing city is very real. But the city at risk of failure isn’t Bradford or Doncaster or Middlesbrough… it’s London.
If the young Dick Whittington was drafting a plan for success in the here and now of 2016, it wouldn’t include relocating to London – because it is simply unaffordable to buy, rent, commute or live. London has become so consumed with itself that it has forgotten the key ingredient in its relentless recipe for success:- young people who aren’t from London.
Young people have always gone where the work is. But what if they can’t afford to live where the work is? Where do they go to release their inner Dick Whittington?
They don’t go anywhere.
They’ll stay in or near their home towns where their ambitious energy will prove that necessity really is the mother of invention. That dynamic alone will completely change the economic landscape – and London will ultimately be the poorer for it.
The late, lamented David Bowie may have been a Londoner, but only because his Doncaster-dad had followed in Dick Whittington’s footsteps. Had he been unable to afford that move, Ziggy Stardust may well have had a Yorkshire accent. Besides, his Spiders weren’t from Mars – they were from Planet Hull.
Maybe, just maybe, the Hoxton Squares of yesteryear are about to be eclipsed by the Hulls of tomorrow.