Britain, I was told, has found a way to be simultaneously overcentralized and weak at its center. The pandemic revealed the British state’s inability to manage the nation’s health: to create a funding model that does not solely promote efficiency, to rise above short-term problems and tackle the problem of old-age care, and to mend the broken system of accountability that runs through so much of British public life. Throughout the NHS’s existence, British governments, both Conservative and Labour, have found the political will to tinker with it, but rarely to tackle its long-term challenges, fearful of losing votes.
Sultan, Priyesh and Asiyah have symbiotic relationships with their local communities, but their accounts of running a corner shop are still prefaced by the institutional racism that runs through Britain’s history. In the 1970s and 1980s, South Asian factory workers in the UK began to lose their jobs after the decline of traditional labour-intensive industries.
The simultaneous expansion of supermarket chains postwar meant that provincial grocery stores were likely to close, unless they were part of groups like Spar or Londis.
During the first month after the lockdown began in late March, sixteen women and girls were killed in suspected domestic homicides — more than triple the number from the same period in 2019. At least 10 more have died in the two months since then. The oldest of them was 82 years old. The youngest, killed alongside her mother and 4-year-old sister, was 2.
— As Domestic Abuse Rises, U.
For a city that’s long been the repository of vast commercial, imperial, and industrial wealth, this might seem a very modest template. However, it is one that can be easily scaled up, points out Edward Denison, associate professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture and author of The Life of the British Home: An Architectural History.
“What’s extraordinary, in London in particular, is that you can find very grand houses in places such as Carlton House Terrace, with vast rooms and very high ceilings, that are still essentially two-up, two-downs with extra floors added,” says Denison.
The history of Greene King gives a glimpse into some of these entanglements. Benjamin Greene started off as an apprentice to the leading brewing firm Whitbread in London, and would go on to inherit estates in the island of St Kitts, becoming one of many absentee slave owners living off their Caribbean property. Once emancipation happened he was one of the 4,000 people in Britain (20% of whom were women) who received compensation.