Bring back the city state

Observations on hunting (2)

According to the supporters of hunting, Labour is an urban party. And so, judging by the voting patterns in the recent presidential election, is the US Democratic Party.

What's wrong with that? Neither party has anything to be ashamed of. Cities are productive, tolerant and progressive. The countryside is economically backward, insular and conservative. The values of city dwellers are those that any self- respecting Labour government should promote. And cities are the reason Labour wins elections. They are the heart of any progressive coalition.

In America too, for all the talk of red and blue states, the real political divide is between town and country. The political guru James Carville once described the blue state of Pennsylvania as "Philadelphia at one end, Pittsburgh at the other, and Alabama in between". On election day, the Democrats carried the state only because the two liberal cities mustered more voters than the conservative wasteland that separates them. The pattern applies across America. The blue (Democratic) states go blue only because of city dwellers. Geographically, states such as Michigan, Illinois and even California are red. But the residents of Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles turn them blue.

Equally, red states have blue islands - Austin in Texas, for instance, or Athens in Georgia - but they just don't have enough of them. As one commentator put it after the election, the Democrats are now citizens of the "urban archipelago . . . the united cities of America".

If we admit the left's reliance on cities, what follows? Professor Ian Angell, of the information systems department at the London School of Economics, predicts that globalisation will lead London and other cities to become independent metropolitan states within 50 years. The left should speed the plough. Residents of the urban archipelago would be better served by a return to self-governing liberal city states. The countryside could be abandoned to the Conservatives in perpetuity, and its inhabitants left to continue killing foxes to their hearts' content.

This article first appeared in the 29 November 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Would you buy a car that looked like this?