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London Mayor Boris Johnson's Statement About Nightlife and Venues is Actually Completely Meaningless

Despite vowing to commission an investigation into the nighttime economy, Bo-Jo's words contain very little substance.

The grand narrative of London clubbing runs thus: there was Shoom, then there was Ministry and now there's nothing. London, we're told, is a city that's sold its hedonistic soul and bought 891 studios, one, two, three and four-bedroom apartments and penthouses in a block with west-facing views to the city and Canary Wharf—and over 200 metres of river frontage. A city that's swapped vibrancy and culture for cupcakes and Wowcher deals on laughing at poor people. London in 2016, so the story goes, is a husk. It's a moribund cesspit of inequality and unease and lots and lots and lots of Pret a Mangers. And there's one person that a lot of us blame for this: Boris Johnson.


This writer vividly remembers the night Johnson won the 2008 mayoral election, and thinking, "Fuck, I'm about to move to a city run by a Latin spouting bale of hay stuffed into a suit." Since that fateful night in May, he's done nothing to elevate that sense of horror I felt above "total and utter, but low-lying, dread whenever I think about the fact that I still live in London." Even my experiences as a fresh faced student wowed by the dizzying glamour and golden pavements of the artier end of South East London directly feed into the narrative of Boris, destroyer of worlds. First he got rid of drinking on bendy busses on the way to clubs, then he got rid of the bendy busses, and then he got rid of the clubs.

Now, while this narrative is attractive, it's not without its pitfalls. It's reductive, unhelpful, poorly thought out, not entirely true, and banging on about it makes you sound like the worst kind of Yes I Have Read the New Statesman Have YOU Ever Heard of Owen Jones kind of sixth-former. The issues facing nightlife in the capital and beyond, the ones that have created a massive drop-off in the number of nightclubs in the UK over the space of a decade (3,144 in 2005, to 1,733 according to The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers) are issues that existed before Boris took the reigns off poor old Ken Livingstone. Put simply, despite his many, many failings as both a person and more importantly as a politician, we can't simply solely blame Johnson. He's trying to change things, right? Sort of. Maybe. Possibly.



In a statement released yesterday by the London Assembly, Boris, and his crack squad of whoever the fuck it is that actually works for him in that sliced-gherkin of a tower on the Southbank, confirmed that they'll be launching a "six month investigation into what should be done to protect and manage the night time economy," as part of a scheme they've imaginatively titled the Night Time Commission. In essence, it's a firming up and following on from London's Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan which in turn was part of Johnson's Music Venues Taskforce, established in October 2015. The various projects aim to investigate, essentially, how music venues (an umbrella term which includes nightclubs) can stay open and act as commercially viable entities in a city that's becoming more commercially orientated by the day.

This is not necessarily a terrible thing in itself. After all, for all our talk about transcendence and life-changing nights out, clubs are and always will be money making operations. They don't exist outside of the economy, and sadly "good vibes" and "legendary sets" don't pay the bills. Anything that exists to attempt, in any way, to ensure that as many clubs stay open as possible, is something that we, as a "community," should engage with properly, without resorting to simple FUCK THE TORIES rhetoric. That being said, there are a lot of terrible, terrible things going on with the London Assembly's statement, and these deserve engagement too.


Lets look at what it actually says, and how it says it. Obviously trying to summarize what must be a labyrinthine system of micro-investigations, into a myriad of factors, into 500 easily consumable words is difficult, but fortunately what the assembly have presented us with is a masterclass in saying absolutely fuck all. Its message, which in essence is "nightlife is an industry from which we, as a city, can profit from, even though we don't really want to have to deal with it in any meaningful, hands on way," is couched in the language of power, the language of competition, the language of brute economics. Which, unintentionally, gives the game away.


What we have here, with this statement and the creation of the Night Time Commission itself, is a final throw of the dice from a mayor who seems to have understood that his time in power is one during which London stopped being a city for the young, for the creative, for the non-independently wealthy. The project, which is, "due to report on its findings in the autumn," is an exercise in phatic talk, phatic action.

London, we're told, is a city in which culture—a word which by now means incredibly little, but is thrown around with gay abandon whenever public bodies and private institutions realize that for some people there's more to life than commerce—plays a vital role in attracting tourists, the "millions of visitors that have helped the capital break records," as the statement puts it. The very idea that culture is a tool which serves no purpose other than the creation of wealth and record breaking is anathema to, well, anyone with half a brain. This boast, by the way, comes in the second paragraph of the assembly statement. 100 words into something which is allegedly the foundation of a scheme that'll see the city's nightlife revamped and reinvigorated and we've already run away from the actual problems at stake—inflexible licensing laws put in place by the city's various local councils, coupled with strict policing initiatives and the hangover of a decade long slide into total economic instability—retreating into the relative safety of meaningless and ill-advised self-adulation.


That tone is kept up throughout the statement, with the actuality of what they're talking about when they talk about the night time industry sliding into the background, receding out of sight as much as possible. Phrases like "maximising the full potential of the sector" and "comprehensive strategic review" are prime examples of the way the language of business is a form of dehumanization, wherein real, living, breathing human beings are nothing more than problems to be solved, variables in a system.


While we perhaps shouldn't be surprised that a statement about a six month investigation into economy and industry finds itself resting in the relatively safe waters of objectivity and assumed rationality, nonetheless there's something incredibly strange about it all. It's a literal interpretation of the feeling that most of us have: that the Johnson mayoral terms have been ones in which anything other than the nice, quiet, flat white lives of people who move into flats next to nightclubs and venues and are then surprised that those places open late and are quite loud, is to be viewed with suspicion.

What the commission itself will do, what the comprehensive strategic review will actually achieve, is to be seen. What it won't do, though, is suddenly recreate the nightlife we've lost. Unless, of course, those in charge can suddenly see the benefits that a genuinely active, genuinely creative nightlife would have on the city as a whole. Which seems unlikely.

Oh, and the best thing about it? It doesn't include the word "nightclub" once.

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