London is turning into an oversized private members’ club

For the millenial with no money, no umbrella and no hope of ever owning a house, it's time to look elsewhere.

“Boop.”

I’m on a bus. I’ve just scanned my Oyster Card and I’m getting the “insufficient funds” Red Dot Of Doom. Outside, great watery clumps are falling out of the sky.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” I say to both the driver and myself.

I don’t have any cash. I try giving the driver big, wounded puppy eyes. Nothing. He shrugs, I slump off the bus. I could’ve sworn I topped up my Oyster with a tenner about an hour ago. But London is like a sweaty magician in a snazzy waistcoat, who makes money disappear.

This isn’t fun anymore. With no money, no umbrella and no hope of ever owning a house, I wrestle my way through the rush hour on foot, back to my parents’. Maybe I’ll move out again one day, or maybe rent prices will continue to soar Shard-high.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve realised that, for so many millennials, living in London is a form of masochism. Last week, I saw a friend from Brighton wince as she paid four quid for a pint. Jaded by London prices, I looked on, dead-eyed and handed over an even heftier purse of monies for a G&T.

As the city I love turns into an oversized private members’ club, not a day goes by now where I don’t ask myself, “What am I doing here?”

The other day, I was paying some of the highest prices in Europe to be unceremoniously jammed into an armpit, on the tube, when it hit me: let’s all move to Londonderry.

According to a piece in the Telegraph, earlier this year, Londonderry is the most affordable city to live in, in the UK. Please note, I’m not referring to the Northern Irish city by its unionist name for any political reasons. I just like that I could live there and still claim that I live in London. Ish.

Within a couple of minutes of researching rental prices in Londonderry, I find a six bedroom mansion, with land (actual land), that’s on the market for £525 PCM. House-sharers, that’s £20 per person, per week. Even when I lived in Brighton, I was (at one point) paying £90 per week to live in a slightly upmarket squat.

In Londonderry, the budget mansion is only a very slight anomaly. I soon find non-methy, spacious terraced houses in central locations for around £30 PPPW. The average rental price in London is over £1,200 per month. To contextualise this even further, a grave plot and burial in the capital can now reach around £5,000. So, in the short term, it’s cheaper to be alive in Londonderry than dead in London.

Millennials, hear me out – in Londonderry, we would live like a slightly plumper Henry VIII. Gout-ridden and fat on roast swan, we’d slap our thighs and guffaw heartily over the years we spent paying hundreds of pounds a month for the pleasure of living in ungodly dirt shacks. And in Londonderry, there are cool things like this and this. And I’m pretty certain that this is in Bavaria, but it still came up when I Google-imaged “Londonderry”.

So, what’s shackling me to London? One of the obvious fetters is the gay scene – one of the most vibrant in the world. But, according to my research, it’s not as if Londonderry is completely devoid of rainbows and Lady Gaga. In 2010, the city had its first ever Gay Pride and I bet you pints don’t cost £4 in this gay bar. Plus, my fellow London-weary homos, if we all emigrated there at the same time, we could make Londonderry, like, really fucking gay. There’s always room in a socially conservative Catholic stronghold for a Jewish lesbian on a mission.

Living in London is a form of masochism. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories