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London Pride
November 2015

London: By comparison with New York, it tends to remain in the background in films (photo: Mewiki CC BY-SA 3.0)

Film critics used to say that New York was the most prominent character in Woody Allen’s films, so much did it form his personality and approach to life’s metaphysical questions. As I know from my five-year stint as this magazine’s film columnist, Woody’s horizons now more often take in European cities. The neurotic, pseudo-intellectualising but endearing characters which populated his 1970s and ’80s New York pictures no longer define the essence of that city. They are a vanishingly small tribe, having given way to the courting and consumerist rituals of Sex and the City and its successors.

Cinematically speaking, London has by comparison tended to loom in the background rather than shape a story, at least until the smug oeuvre of Richard Curtis. This is probably because, at least until recently, Londoners have not shared the self-consciousness about their town that causes New Yorkers to bring it up in every other sentence. It’s simply there, good and bad, like a fact of life.

But that doesn’t stop it becoming part of your character. As the years go by, I see more and more clearly how being Londoners shaped the lives of my grandparents and parents, all of them gone now but as much a part of the city as the bricks and mortar they left behind. They have been on my mind a lot in the past few weeks, since I was selected to be UKIP’s candidate for Mayor of London.

Together their lives spanned a century, during most of which the only mayor they knew of was the red-robed one who flitted past in his ceremonial gold coach once a year for the benefit of families of recalcitrant children (I was definitely not one of these: already having an overdeveloped sense of theatre, I loved it all right down to the last bit of gold braid). During that time, they passed on to me the history of this place, because it was also the history of their lives. So much were they intertwined with the place in which they were born, educated, worked and eventually died that criticism of it from outside was taken personally, although they might not have realised it. They, and London, made me.

For younger generations the idea that connection to a place — a country, a city — might be a defining quality just as much as having a sweet tooth or being a hopeless romantic is probably difficult to understand. Some aspire to rootlessness as a sort of individualist’s badge of honour, and much of contemporary consumerist London eggs them on. But the ability to exist anonymously has ultimately never proved to be the greatest recommendation for living anywhere. Like a country, a city has a soul, a spirit which links the present with what has gone before and what is about to come. It is not just about money alone; you cannot measure the success of a city by the number of coffee chains it can support.

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