A London Political Bestiary

Letter From London

From the West End, to the Square Mile, out into the most featureless South London suburbs, London is full of political resonances and the memories of old controversies.  From all kinds of streets, roads, avenues, broadways, high streets, rises, hills, crescents, parks, mews, and terraces, native or adoptive Londoners have gone out into the world to make their country feared or famous.

The streets of Belgravia, Fitzrovia, Mayfair, Bayswater, Chelsea, South Kensington, and Notting Hill are littered with houses once inhabited by statesmen, generals, and thinkers who have changed this country and the world, from Thomas Carlyle’s House in Cheyne Walk to the blue plaque marking Karl Marx’s cramped and complicated residency in Soho.  (The building is now an Italian restaurant!)

Nonconformist, mercantile, and relatively cosmopolitan London has often been at odds with the relatively tradition-minded agricultural hinterland.  During the Civil War, London was solidly pro-Parliament, to the extent that the Royalists never seriously considered attacking it.  (Their one halfhearted attempt, in 1642 at Turnham Green near Chiswick, was defeated very easily by some badly trained bands of London apprentices.)  London is still at odds with the countryside—one sign of this appeared during the fox-hunting debate, when opinion polls invariably showed a very large majority of Londoners opposed to hunting. ...

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