As the London Brexit results started to arrive in the early hours of Friday I, like many others, expected this would be the moment when Leave’s lead ebbed away and its supporters hopes of victory were dashed.
But while the Remain camp enjoyed a clear win in London, the 2.2million votes it amassed here weren’t enough to eclipse Leave’s strong leads in the rest of England, parts of Wales and even in Northern Ireland where Remain had insisted Brexit would undermine peace.
Losing elections can be an upsetting experience and it’s understandable that tensions are even higher after a referendum result which will define our future for decades, if not centuries, to come.
But since Remain’s defeat there’s been a lot of angry, nasty commentary about how decent people in London have been denied their wants by “racist” “knuckle-draggers” from outside, and complaints that the nation’s youth have been “robbed” by “selfish older voters”.
Being upset is understandable, but to push the line that all or even most 17.4m Leavers are racists, xenophobes or members of the “far-right” is just a nonsense as are the sudden expectations that people should ignore their own concerns and experiences in order to let others have their way.
Londoners who wanted to remain in Europe are going to have to do what they’d have expected of disappointed leavers and get used to the result. Within a few years our EU membership will be a thing of the past. It’s a done deal and now we must look to the future.
Hopefully, as Sadiq Khan called for on Friday, that future will be one where the UK and London continues to enjoy access to the single market and one where people from the EU and beyond continue to be welcome.
But those fighting so valiantly on behalf of concerned European citizens, worried whether they’ll be able to remain in their London jobs and homes, would do well to spend a fraction of the same time and effort acknowledging the real reasons so many British voters opted for Leave.
London, especially its economy, has been the focus of Government policy for far too long.
The wants of the City of London, the financial sector and global businesses looking for a sexy backdrop for their client meetings, a favourable tax regime and a cheap, mobile workforce have dominated economic and business policy.
This big business focus has been condemned for years by the British Left because it’s left behind both Londoners, many of whom suffer from poverty and deprivation, and millions more citizens outside the capital who have zero chance of benefiting from our supposedly “strong economy”.
Many of the people who voted Leave are the very same minimum wage workers forced into insecure jobs, sometimes on zero-our contracts, reliant on in-work benefits and struggling to pay rents or save for a deposit that Labour and the Greens claim to speak up for.
And yet the moment they vote the ‘wrong’ way these previously championed communities find themselves recast as “racists” by fair-weather friends who no longer consider their concerns worthy of understanding.
In the long term, that approach to our fellow countrymen will do far more damage than a temporary drop in the stock markets or the value of the pound ever can because it reinforces a widespread view that politicians across the whole spectrum don’t really understand what life is like at the sharp end.
Bringing this back to London, calls for independence are never going to do more than make the petition organisers look a bit daft but with such a sharp divide between the capital and much of the country it may be sensible to revisit our devolution settlement.
Given that our nation’s most likely next leader is the same Boris Johnson who has spoken so frequently and eloquently about the importance of local decision making and tax retention, it should be easy for Sadiq to convince him to bolster the mayor’s importance without taking anything away from the rest of the country.