It sounded like the best job in the world. Night czar of London. The night mayor. Champion of the night-time economy. A job title to be embossed on business cards of the weightiest stock. Who wouldn't want such a title?
And then: Fabric. It's not hard to imagine hundreds of previously enthusiastic candidates now hastily scrambling to withdraw their applications. Islington Council's decision to shut down a globally renowned nightclub, one which employed 250 people and acted as a cornerstone for the UK's electronic music industry, defies any logic or reason. Who in their right mind would take a job defending London's nightlife when it is now so clear that the odds are heavily stacked against success?
When the news first broke that Fabric was in danger, Twitter was flooded with messages calling on Sadiq Khan to step in. It seemed fair to imagine that the London mayor might have some sway over such a critical decision. Amazingly, Khan appeared able to do nothing at all. In the days leading up to the licensing hearing, he said he wanted Fabric to remain open but stressed that its future was up to Islington Council. Responding to a petition to save the club, now signed by more than 150,000 people, he called for a "common sense solution". One was not forthcoming.
In the wake of the decision, Khan tweeted: "Fabric is an iconic and essential part of London's cultural landscape – I'm disappointed an agreement couldn't be reached to keep it open." From Fabric's perspective, an agreement was presumably made difficult by the Met's dogged determination to shut the club down. Some insight into the force's mentality is offered by the codename adopted for its investigation of the club: Operation Lenor. Yes, like the fabric softener, a gag that presumably had everyone in absolute stitches down at New Scotland Yard.
Unlike planning decisions, the London mayor has no power of veto over licensing. In the wake of the Fabric verdict, Khan reiterated his helplessness on Twitter: "The decision to revoke Fabric's licence was made by the licensing committee," he said. "I had no power to intervene nor can I overturn it." He went on: "I'm in the process of appointing a Night Czar to ensure London thrives as a 24-hour city, in a way that is safe & enjoyable for all." It suggested that the role will help address the problems that led to Fabric's closure. But if the actual mayor was unable to save the club, what chance will there be for his night czar?
A job description posted by the mayor's office states that the czar will be an "ambassador for London as a 24-hour global city". It will involve chairing meetings, giving speeches and commissioning research which can help support the night-time industries. It will require a balancing act, exploring an approach to licensing that "takes into account cultural value, economic impact and wellbeing" while developing in a way that is "considerate of people's need for rest and also public safety".
Like the mayor, the night czar will have no direct power over licensing. Instead, he or she will work with organisations including the police and London's boroughs to "ensure London's evening and night time offer is rich, world-leading, safe and responsible". This is unfortunate, because Fabric's closure shows that the police and some boroughs have no interest in working to ensure London's nightlife is world-leading. Their overriding focus is on making it safe, and they have adopted an incredibly misguided approach.
Deaths caused by drugs, particularly when the victims are young, are always tragic. The incidents that occurred at Fabric this summer are no different. The deaths of two 18-year-old men could, and should, have been prevented. But not by closing down clubs. To suggest that future deaths can be avoided by closing down Fabric is at best misguided and at worst a lie. No one has ever been dissuaded from taking drugs by the lack of a venue in which to take them.
Cluelessness of this magnitude should come as no surprise. Licensing decisions are made by local councillors who take their cue from the police. It's a system heavily weighted against clubs and typically lacks any kind of input from anyone with any knowledge of the club scene. Putting local councillors in charge of nightlife is like putting Drake in charge of the England football team. They're not bad people, they're just supremely unqualified for the job.
Night mayors in Amsterdam and Berlin have shown how they can help to revitalise night-time culture. But that won't work in London while licensing decisions are made by people with no interest in seeing nightlife thrive. Khan wants a night czar who will act as a diplomat, negotiating for nightlife to be allowed a space in the city. The Fabric verdict has shown how that works out. Is a night czar really the answer to nightlife's problems? Perhaps the time for negotiation is over.
More on VICE: