The London skyline from Hampstead Heath. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Young creatives continue to flock to the capital, despite all the reasons not to

An enduring feeling of “cool” and a certain pack mentality mean that London is still the place to be for young and broke twenty-somethings.

For decades, the assumption has been for creative talent to move to the capital where the streets are paved of gold and “hot sex” abounds (thank you, Mr Gove). Think of pretty much any young, cool, creative person and you can almost guarantee that at some point they cut their teeth in the unforgiving metropolis that churns out hot new names faster than the government can milk them dry.

More recently, however, finding anywhere affordable to live in London surpasses the imaginative abilities of even the most creative Hot Young Thing. The average house price in London is now £458,000, two hundred grand more than the national. In the year ending January 2014, house prices in London went up 13.2 per cent; nationally, just 3.8 per cent. Earlier this month, a rather dilapidated 568 square foot garage that used to house the mayor of Southwark’s car, round the corner from Camberwell College of Arts, sold at auction for half a million pounds. That’s nearly £1,000 per square foot.

Renting, too, has become unaffordable. According to Foxtons, the cheapest rent that you can hope to pay in Hoxton - a former creative hub - is £325 per week. Why not move to the suburbs, where rent is far cheaper? Apart from the fact that Cockfosters hardly has the same urban appeal as Camden, a Zone 1-5 yearly season ticket will set you back over two grand. Add to this the fact that in Leeds, a city comparable to London in terms of nightlife and culture, the average weekly rent comes in at £170, and you can see why the young and broke might be looking elsewhere.

Alice Udale-Smith, from Bath, is in her final year at Cambridge and has been offered a place to study for a Masters in London. “I don’t have any family to stay with, so need to guarantee I’ll have enough in rent money for the year...unless I get funding I may have to turn [it] down.”

“I’d always assumed I’d end up in London after graduation, as I thought the majority of the media jobs I was interested in would be based there. However, on one recent job application I was given the option to express a preference for other cities and so opted for Bristol instead, as I think the south-west would be more affordable on a starting salary.”

Smaller cities also provide more opportunities for career development. Fergus Waddell graduated from Glasgow University three years ago and now lives in Edinburgh, working in advertising. “I suppose I always just assumed that I would go to London when I graduated before I got a job in Edinburgh . . . Most of my friends have gone to London.

“However now I am in Edinburgh I think that I actually get way more experience and responsibility than I would if I was in London, as it is a smaller pond really. I think that if I did move to London I would go in a year or so, because I would have much better experience than if I gone straight there.”

Beyond other UK cities, some people are even looking abroad. European capitals are no longer so linguistically inaccessible and living costs are far cheaper, with some countries, such as Denmark, offering free postgraduate courses for any EU members.

“I would consider other cities like Berlin and Copenhagen,” says Emily Cousens, currently studying for a Masters at Oxford University. “Both are far less focussed [than London] on a financial centre as the economic driver and so tend to have a lot more creativity and seemingly happier people with a higher quality of life,” she says.

The grind of life in an urban metropolis can certainly be taxing, and it is easy to see why people might go elsewhere. Ruth Broadbent, a Londoner, is a case in point. After graduating with a degree in English from Oxford University, she decided to move to Paris. “Maybe if it had seemed like I would be able to move out within a year of working I would have stayed, but that wasn’t going to happen”. Now back and living at home, Ruth is unsure of where to go next. “I would definitely consider the idea of living elsewhere,” she says, “But it would depend. . . on the extent to which I felt I could pursue any job option. . . most internships would be in London.”

Similarly, Emily still feels a “pull” to London, despite the fact that often, the “only viable options tend to be corporate jobs with long hours”.

“I think London is still cool in some ways. It is definitely still an extremely diverse and dynamic city. Whilst ‘hipsterness’ has sort of commodified and homogenized what used to be slightly more spontaneous and artistic expressions of creativity. . .there are. . .still some elements of ‘coolness’ that remain.”

Indeed, everyone I speak to agrees that London still has an inexorable appeal. Ruth talks hopefully about the growth in squats and co-ops: “Spaces for young people to work and play and live together”.

“I still see London as a cool place to live, as do all my friends,” says Ella Bruce, another recent graduate who is living at home in London. “We always have conversations about how we could never live anywhere other than London because, to us, it is definitely one of, if not the best, city in the world.”

London is expensive. It is hostile, difficult and dirty. It has one of the highest crime rates in the UK. And yet, people flock. The bright lights and dark clubs and dimly lit places in between seem to supersede any more practical, grey considerations and few young people genuinely imagine themselves elsewhere. Certainly, they will be pushed further afield, and even the phrase “the new Dalston” will become redundant, as people forget that Dalston was once cool and re-appropriate further forgotten suburbs. But the city will evolve, and young people will adapt. They are not tired yet.

Amy Hawkins is a student at the University of Cambridge and deputy editor of Varsity, the student newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle