:: Article

London – 2015

#GE2015fiction – a response to Patrick Keiller’s London, by Juliet Jacques.

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The middle class in England had continued to vote Conservative because in their miserable hearts, they still believed it was in their best interests to do so. Robinson began to consider what the result would mean for her.

Her flat would continue to deteriorate, and her rent increase. Buoyed by a 13% share increase, announced before the Conservative majority was confirmed, Foxtons would send prospective buy-to-let landlords around ever more often, disturbing her in her freelance work, until one of them bought it, hiked up the price and she would have to move again. This time, most likely, she would have to leave the capital, along with others who had more right to call London their home, and her migrant friends from across the world, displaced by the financial class who wanted easy access to the City and to Canary Wharf. Her tax credits would be frozen, making her living standards drop more steeply. The crowing of Osborne and his friends in the post-Leveson Inquiry media about the economic recovery would become even more nauseating.

The bus service would get worse, and the cost of rail travel would continue its exponential rise, with an array of providers that apparently offered ‘choice’ but in practice made things more complicated – deliberately, she suspected. Long-distance fares would be pushed up further by the logistics of more than one company facilitating journeys, and by their unrestrained pursuit of profit.

She would hear the word “customer” more frequently: not just on trains, where she had come to expect it; or in the Jobcentre, where her advisor had first called her a “customer” in summer 2014 and she had scornfully challenged it, saying she was “a claimant”; but also in the health service, yet more of which would be turned over to profit-making firms under a “competitive” tendering process. She dared not think about what would happen to the staff and students at secondary schools, adult education centres or universities.

She would find it harder to supplement her falling income with temporary public sector jobs, as she always had. She asked how the artists, actors and musicians she knew would structure their lives in a way that allowed them to create, especially as she wondered how many councils would follow Newcastle’s lead of March 2013 and pass 100% cuts to their arts budgets.

There would be more drunks pissing in the street when she looked out of her window, and more people sleeping on them when she walked home at night. The only thing likely to change that might be local businesses installing anti-homeless spikes in their doorways, knowing that while their first usage, in Manchester last year, had provoked a social media outcry, their fiftieth would probably not, and she felt that the practice of dealing with undesirable public opinion by riding roughshod over it would be maintained until the last resistant was broken.

She thought about how her disabled friends would be affected by another £12bn of welfare cuts, a figure she hadn’t imagined still remained to be removed. She wondered how David Cameron might top the gesture of preaching permanent austerity from a golden throne, but if thirteen years of New Labour followed by five of the Conservative-led coalition had taught her anything, it was that things could always get worse, and this morning, they had.

She thought about her lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex friends, whose bars and clubs would continue to close, whose drop-in centres and counselling services would have their funding taken away, and how ‘progress’ would continue to be framed in terms of how many openly gay men were Conservative MPs, or how many trans women had stood for the UK Independence Party. (At her last recollection, the numbers were, respectively, thirteen and two.)  Momentarily, she gave thanks that she had begun her gender reassignment via the NHS during the last year of Gordon Brown’s government, hating the fact that the ongoing imposition of a Thatcherite society gave her so little choice but to prioritise her individual wellbeing above all else. As Adorno asked, how do you live a good life in a bad one?

She may well suffer in future, she said, from the closure of support services for those who experience sexual assault or domestic abuse, even if she was not hit by the bedroom tax or cuts to council tax benefit as many others. Perhaps, in East London, those services would be replaced by more of those crass cafés that took the name of whatever was there before. They would pop up gradually, the demographics would continue to change, and she would see more and more obnoxiously phallic monuments to capital appear on the horizon, struggling to keep track of their cloying, over-familiar names as she walked, head down, along the High Street.

Over the next five years, she would watch as the Conservatives attacked anyone or anything they suspected of breeding class solidarity or insurrectionary thought – unions and universities, artists and academics – and wondered where she would go. It wouldn’t be back home: she had left her small town in Surrey by mutual consent, and on her most recent return, the first thing that faced her at the station was an advert for the St. George’s Day festival, a handwritten poster with an image of a man dressed as a Crusader at its top. The middle class in England had continued to vote Conservative because they still believed it was in their best interests to do so, and she wondered just how miserable their hearts could become.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Juliet Jacques is a writer, cultural critic and journalist. Her fiction has appeared in Five Dials, The London Magazine, 3:AM, Necessary Fiction and elsewhere. Her Transgender Journey series for The Guardian documented her gender reassignment between 2010-12 and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011. She is a regular blogger for the New Statesman and her work has also appeared in TimeOut, The New Inquiry, The London Review of Books and other publications. She was the featured artist at Ubuweb in December 2013 and her book, Trans: A Memoir, will be published by Verso in September 2015.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, May 8th, 2015.