A Level results and leaping Home Counties teenagers

It's a comforting newspaper staple, but surely all a bit old hat now?

Across the country, photogenic blonde teenagers have been jumping into the air to celebrate their exam results, in a tale as old as time.

The less photogenic, less blonde teenagers have probably been getting results too (and possibly jumping) but who cares about them? They're grubby, and probably smoke and smell of colleges and readymeals, and some of them don't look like English Roses, so who gives a shit about them?

This year, the Sexy A-Levels tumblr has decided to call it a day. Its work is done, and the tropes are so well known now we can all recite them without a second thought. The mid-air suspension photo. The leaping girls. The "excitedly opening an evelope" photograph. The token boffin kid to try and convince you this isn't all about 18-year-old cheesecake.

We know it off by heart. It's one of those stories that is the same every time, dreaded by a swathe of journalists up and down the land. The same words, just in a slightly different order, but you could pretty much do it to a template: "students celebrated... blah de blah... results went up/down... blah de blah... someone from the government said... someone from somewhere else said... prodigy kid... someone who got a lot of A-levels..." and so on and so on.

It's comfortable, familiar, a nice old pair of slippers. It's like that day when temperatures are slightly warm and newspapers break out the graphics of a cartoon sun, wearing sunglasses, next to a thermometer showing the temperature in Fahrenheit and a picture of some random "beauties" on a beach somewhere.

One of the stories (if there is a story) to this year's results is that boys have caught up with girls, so naturally we're going to get loads of pictures of boys, right? Er, well, no. "Teenagers celebrate as they get A-level results" whooped the Mail Online, and it was a parody of what you'd imagine the Daily Mail to do.

There they were, the leaping Home Counties teenage girls, forever suspended in mid-air with a piece of paper and an envelope. No boys in sight, of course, ugh, who wants to see them? Or maybe it just so happened that every time a male walked into range of a camera lens, the shutter accidentally didn't go off. We can't say for certain.

It has just become a strange ritual, this yearly parade of young female flesh, a May Queen for the newspaper age. It doesn't tell us anything about exams, or education, or anything like that. Of course, those debates are being covered, and covered very well - see the Telegraph or Guardian's liveblogs. But elsewhere, the same tired old images dominate. It's a bit old hat.
 

Lovely A Level students jumping for joy. Yawn. Photograph: Getty Images
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Should London leave the UK?

Almost 60 per cent of Londoners voted to stay in the EU. Is it time for the city to say good by to Brexit Britain and go it alone?

Amid the shocked dismay of Brexit on Friday morning, there was some small, vindictive consolation to be had from the discomfort of Boris Johnson as he left his handsome home in EU-loving Islington to cat-calls from inflamed north London europhiles. They weren’t alone in their displeasure at the result. Soon, a petition calling for “Londependence” had gathered tens of thousands of names and Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor as London mayor, was being urged to declare the capital a separate city-state that would defiantly remain in the EU.

Well, he did have a mandate of a kind: almost 60 per cent of Londoners thought the UK would be Stronger In. It was the largest Remain margin in England – even larger than the hefty one of 14 per cent by which Khan defeated Tory eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith to become mayor in May – and not much smaller than Scotland’s. Khan’s response was to stress the importance of retaining access to the single market and to describe as “crucial” London having an input into the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s possible to take a dim view of all this. Why should London have a special say in the terms on which the UK withdraws from the EU when it ended up on the wrong side of the people’s will? Calling for London to formally uncouple from the rest of the UK, even as a joke to cheer gloomy Inners up, might be seen as vindicating small-town Outer resentment of the metropolis and its smug elites. In any case, it isn’t going to happen. No, really. There will be no sovereign Greater London nation with its own passport, flag and wraparound border with Home Counties England any time soon.

Imagine the practicalities. Currency wouldn’t be a problem, as the newborn city-state would convert to the euro in a trice, but there would be immediate secessionist agitation in the five London boroughs of 32 that wanted Out: Cheam would assert its historic links with Surrey; stallholders in Romford market would raise the flag of Essex County Council. Then there is the Queen to think about. Plainly, Buckingham Palace could no longer be the HQ of a foreign head of state, but given the monarch’s age would it be fair to turf her out?

Step away from the fun-filled fantasy though, and see that Brexit has underlined just how dependent the UK is on London’s economic power and the case for that power to be protected and even enhanced. Greater London contains 13 per cent of the UK’s population, yet generates 23 per cent of its economic output. Much of the tax raised in London is spent on the rest of the country – 20 per cent by some calculations – largely because it contains more business and higher earners. The capital has long subsidised the rest the UK, just as the EU has funded attempts to regenerate its poorer regions.

Like it or not, foreign capital and foreign labour have been integral to the burgeoning of the “world city” from which even the most europhobic corners of the island nation benefit in terms of public spending. If Leaver mentality outside the capital was partly about resentment of “rich London”, with its bankers and big businesses – handy targets for Nigel Farage – and fuelled by a fear of an alien internationalism London might symbolise, then it may prove to have been sadly self-defeating.

Ensuring that London maintains the economic resilience it has shown since the mid-Nineties must now be a priority for national government, (once it decides to reappear). Pessimists predict a loss of jobs, disinvestment and a decrease in cultural energy. Some have mooted a special post-Brexit deal for the capital that might suit the interests of EU member states too – London’s economy is, after all, larger than that of Denmark, not to mention larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – though what that might be and how that could happen remain obscure.

There is, though, no real barrier to greater devolution of powers to London other than the political will of central government. Allowing more decisions about how taxes raised in the capital are spent in the capital, both at mayoral and borough level, would strengthen the city in terms of managing its own growth, addressing its (often forgotten) poverty and enhancing the skills of its workforce.

Handing down control over the spending of property taxes, as set out in an influential 2013 report by the London Finance Commission set up by Mayor Johnson, would be a logical place to start. Mayor Khan’s manifesto pledged to campaign for strategic powers over further education and health service co-ordination, so that these can be better tailored to London’s needs. Since Brexit, he has underlined the value of London securing greater command of its own destiny.

This isn’t just a London thing, and neither should it be. Plans are already in place for other English cities and city regions to enjoy more autonomy under the auspices of directly elected “metro mayors”, notably for Greater Manchester and Liverpool and its environs. One of the lessons of Brexit for the UK is that many people have felt that decisions about their futures have been taken at too great a distance from them and with too little regard for what they want and how they feel.

That lesson holds for London too – 40 per cent is a large minority. Boris Johnson was an advocate of devolution to London when he was its mayor and secured some, thanks to the more progressive side of Tory localism. If he becomes prime minister, it would be good for London and for the country as a whole if he remembered that.  

Dave Hill writes the Guardian’s On London column. Find him on Twitter as @DaveHill.