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London’s 24hr nightmare

The UK’s capital was supposed to become a “24-hour-city.” Has the dream died?
A view of London from a Dalston rooftop

Last year, Sadiq Khan unveiled a plan to “create a life at night that works for everyone.” The mayor’s vision of London as a “24-hour city” would mean later opening hours for museums and theatres, supermarkets open after an evening shift ends, and more transport options around the clock, with several Tube lines open overnight at weekends. But at the heart of his plans was a promise to protect nightlife—the music venues, pubs and clubs that make London what it is.

To after-hours music enthusiasts, Khan seemed to be promising welcome relief. The capital had lost around half its clubs over the previous decade, as zealous policing and gentrification took its toll. But anyone who has followed the politics of nightlife for any length of time knows to treat promises from the authorities warily.

In 2005, with much fanfare, the Blair government had promised to relax Britain’s decidedly strict licensing hours, in the expectation (or hope) that this would usher in what ministers quaintly called a continental- style 24-hour café culture. In the event, what they achieved instead was so much media-inspired panic about binge-drinking that local authorities made only limited use of the new licensing flexibility, and little changed. But a dozen years on, rates of harmful drinking among the young are in sharp decline, so the mood should have been different, and the opportunity greater; London had a chance to give the other cities of Britain a lead. But it all depended on what—practically—the mayor was going to do.

LONDON’S 24HR NIGHTMARE

Khan’s big idea was to appoint the city’s first “night czar”, a part-time advocate paid by the city to fight for its pubs and clubs. Amy Lamé, a comedian, performer and television presenter— who now also presents a weekly show on BBC Radio 6 Music—was given the role. So impressed was Khan with Lamé’s first year in the job that he made the post full-time, upping her salary to £75,000.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s October issue: Rafael Behr argues that politics has been poisoned by Twitter—the platform often drives the political news agenda, encourages people to descend deeper and deeper into echo chambers and sees MPs and their families regularly abused. Meanwhile, former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger explains how Oxford picks its students and says that more needs to be done for the colleges to be more inclusive. Also, Jasmin Mujanovic outlines how Bosnia’s elections this month could tip the country back into conflict. Elsewhere in the issue: Alex Dean highlights the alarming decline in the number of students studying a foreign language at GCSE and beyond. Will Self reviews a series of new books about liberalism, arguing that “we need more than just social freedoms and the free market.” Aimee Cliff charts the story of the dying dream that London would be a 24-hour city.