Long life

Young Italians flock to London – for just the same reasons it scares me

Yes, yes, it's a vibrant world city. How can anyone now afford to live there?

14 June 2014

8:00 AM

14 June 2014

8:00 AM

Although I live in the country in Northamptonshire, I go to London often — almost once a week — and I find it more and more intimidating. This isn’t just because of the skyscrapers that spring up boastfully everywhere, parading one’s own insignificance, but also because of the aura of terrifying wealth that pervades its central area and now even its inner suburbs. Fifty years ago, when I got married, my wife and I bought our first London house in Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, for £9,500. I wonder how many millions it is worth now. My parents, who were quite well off if not exactly rich, lived in Knightsbridge to be near my father’s office in Bowater House, an ugly modern glass block that straddled the entrance to Hyde Park opposite the end of Sloane Street. Bowater House has since been replaced by No. 1 Hyde Park, a Richard Rogers group of apartment buildings described on its website as ‘the most exclusive address in the world; a residential scheme whose beauty, luxury and service place it in a class of its own on a global scale’. A flat there sold the other day for £140 million.

London was then a great city, of course, as it always has been, but it was also cosy and modest about itself. Although ‘Swinging London’ was discovered in the Sixties, the city retained an old-fashioned air in which Harrods, later sold to Mohammed al-Fayed and more recently by him to the Qataris, was a haven in which old ladies with wicker shopping trolleys could take a rest in the great hall of the long defunct Harrods bank. Glamour was something one associated with foreign cities like Paris or New York. London was a city of exciting secrets but one that on the surface appeared rather slow and drab. It was a place where the old could feel quite relaxed and neighbourly. I doubt if that is any longer the case.


Since few normal people can afford to live there any more, at least not anywhere near the centre, the huge influx of foreigners is somewhat surprising. I don’t refer to the Russian oligarchs or Middle Eastern billionaires who may be fleeing complications at home or, more often, looking in the London property market for a safe and profitable haven for their ill-gotten gains. Nor do I mean the Poles or other East Europeans who come there to find work as builders and domestic servants to meet their needs. But I’m thinking about the well-educated young graduates from western Europe who are pouring in, in search of employment. Where will they be able to afford to live, and what jobs do they expect to find?

When I was last in Italy, a few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of the newspaper La Repubblica, to find an article headlined ‘London: Promised Land for Young Italians in Search of Work’. ‘Forget the Perfidious Albion,’ it said. ‘Forget the clichés about the coldness of its inhabitants, the wetness of the climate, or the excessive cost of living. The reality is different: Great Britain, and London in particular, are the new Eldorado for young Italians looking for a job.’ The facts supporting this statement were remarkable. During 2013, it said, the number of Italians under 40 years old who had emigrated to Britain had risen by 81 per cent from the previous year; and that of all Italians, whatever their age, had increased by 71 per cent. Until the end of 2012, Germany had comfortably topped the list of foreign countries to which Italians went, ‘but now even the German super-economy must bow to England, which has now arrived in top position, whereas in 2012 it was only the third most favoured destination’.

The British economy is on the up, but still not a patch on Germany’s, yet this is where Italians yearn to come. There must be more to it than job opportunities. Italians have good reasons to dislike the Germans. They also don’t much like the French, against whom we supported them in the 19th-century movement for Italian unity and independence. They have also, laughable though it may now seem, traditionally looked to us as an example of what a good, liberal, uncorrupt democracy should be. And also the attraction of Britain may owe something to Ukip for promoting the idea of this country as a nation seeking to free itself from the stifling bureaucracy of Brussels. But I expect it’s mainly the idea of London as the greatest, most thrilling city of Europe. Boris Johnson has controversially boasted of London being the sixth biggest French city on earth. But there are already probably more Italians there than Frenchmen. And what nobody seems to point out, there are actually many more Germans than either.

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  • BaldEagle176

    I like Chancellor’s articles. Particularly now that he writes about his damned ducks less often. However, what are we going to do now that his move to The Oldie has been announced?

  • Will Goulborn

    That’s funny when British graduates are all on breadlines, who’s employing them all? Also the reason I hate London IS the Arab and Russian billionaires using it as a tax haven.

    • luke Goodger

      Well it is a strange question- in my work there are some companies that seem to only employ europeans as a matter of course- other companies more of a mix, but there is a real problem, especially in the financial services, and I’m not sure it actually about education at all, because i doubt Italian Universities are a touch on British ones at all!

      • Will Goulborn

        Surely a comparable graduate just arriving in Britain is more difficult to employ until they adjust to their new country?

      • La Fold

        I usually find the prefer to employ the best qualified people they can for the budget they have. University education abroad is not seen as the “Rite of passage” its seen as here, as of 3 years of binge drinking before getting a cushy number in an office doing HR. Your average european will go to univeristy far longer than their British counterpart. I think on average a European who goes into Higher education stays there for 6 to 7 years. We have plenty of people who go to university for that long in Britain, we call them doctors! Generally they have good english/ better foreign language skills than our graduates, they are older, more mature and more highly qualified, usually with a great deal more hands on, research or direct industry relevant experience.

        • Gwangi

          That is because in places like France and Italy you have the RIGHT to go to your local university if you pass the Bac (A levels). The drop out rates are huge though after that first year, where 1000 students try to squeeze into lecture theatres designed for 300.
          Italy is so corrupt that people get jobs for their relatives and friends in their university departments; whether they are qualified in the subject is completely irrelevant. No wonder Italy has no university in the top 200 -no world class uni at all.
          But I agree with what you say. The move to egalitarianism and silly targets to get more kids into higher education is massively devalued degrees which have become so dumbed down they are much easier than O levels 30 years ago (Read campus novels like A Campus Conspiracy or Crump to get the lowdown on that scandal).
          And then there’s the cheating. Oh the cheating – of ‘tutor feedback’ as corrupt university staff call it. So our system if fairly corrupt too, esp at the ‘new’ universities (ha! more like Degrees R Us warehouses) which anyone can get into – you just need to be breathing…and if you aren’t, you can still appeal…) Higher education should have been kept elite, for the academic; the vocationally minded should be given a path into training elsewhere. Yet in our customer-led universities, it makes sense to offer BS subjects like meeja, TV studies, modern history, fun waffle stuff, instead of hard science. 80% of science postgrads are foreign. Yep, 80%!
          So many British kids have gone through a self-esteem and diversity-obsessed child-centred education system where they have not learnt times tables off by heart of good old-fashioned facts. It’s all feelings and group hugs, and lessons on anti-racism! They are pampered and told how wonderful they are by their idiot parents and timid teachers since birth. That’s why their attitude stinks – why any Pole can get a job within hours of reaching the UK but our own youngsters are on the dole (got to ANY hotel and restaurant in the UK and it’s all foreign staff. Why? Because our spoilt yoof see serving as below them – and not just the qualified and educated kids either: all of them!)

          • La Fold

            Fully agree with you! I know if you pass the Bac you have the right to go to your local public University. However the Grand Ecoles are far more selective in their admissions with exams, interviews etc before offered a place, and these are usually where the hard sciences, engineering, languages etc are taught and taught best.
            And as for the Italians, its an almost accepted fact of life their that all of civil society is riddled at best with mild nepotism and at worst rotten to its bleeding core.

          • JD

            I’m confused. You’re chugging along nicely, using words like ‘nepotism’ and being all articulate and flowery, and then you use ‘their’ for ‘there’! What’s with that?

    • La Fold

      Well probably because there is a glut of graduates who may have a 2:1 in Business Administration or Leisure Facility Management but they cant produce a CV without spelling mistakes. Too many mickey mouse degrees dished out too readily. Plus with an arbitrary number of students going to “Uni” not because they excel at learning or in certain fieldsbut purely because they need to get a qualification, one of the obvious results was going to be a surplus of under experienced and over qualified candidates for the employment opportunities available.

  • Ollie

    I always find it remarkable that there is much more positve view about the UK in Foreign countries than there is here. Whether its or the economy, or our system of Government etc. Its odd that in most countries even the likes of the US, who probably still overestimate their international reputation and prestige, Britain is one of the only major powers in the world who has a population that believes that we are merely a small Island off mainland Europe comparable to Ireland and Scandinavia.

    • La Fold

      Curse of the British. That self deprecating sense of humour we are famous for can sometimes just lapse into defeatist self loathing, usually disingeniously employed by those just trying to show off about how superior they are cause they read Huffpo.com and eat fairtrade truffles.

  • Gwangi

    I am from near London and lived there for years, but I could never afford to live there now. I could hardly afford to live there then! I rented hovels and rubbish areas.

    Sad really. I am effectively in exile from my homeland, as are so many others.
    Why? Because of absurdly large levels of mass immigration and way too much help for those immigrants from our ethnophiliac councils, health system, school system etc. Add to that no restrictions on foreign buyers of property from all over the world – China, Russia, Euroland – who want to protect their wealth by buying London property. Add to that the stupidly low taxes such people pay on property (a £3 million house in New York would mean you may almost £50,000 tax; in the UK, you pay hardly anything). Add to that the buy to let explosion. Add to that interest rates of 0.5%. And we have a crisis.

    So what to do? How about making a serious attempt to chuck out illegal immigrants? How about dealing with the housing crisis by reducing population rather than building houses on greenbelt land? How about forcing those who own empty houses to sell or rent them out? How about new landlord taxes? New second home taxes? New taxes for foreign property buyers.

    Or we can just wait for the dirty bomb that some Islamist al-nutjobs newly returned from training with the British-taxpayer-funded Palestinian terrorist service or Syria or Iraq are surely going to detonate one day. They only have to be lucky once…

    London is over-rated anyway though, IMHO. I visit once of twice a year and do all I want to do – visit museums, gallerys, the theatre etc. When I lived there I would hardly ever do that stuff! There are plenty of people in zones 3 and 4 who haven’t entered zone 1 for a decade or more.

  • edlancey

    There is no way that there are more “Germans” than French in London, or Britain. How often do you hear German being spoken ? Hardly ever.

    No way. There may be a lot of German passport-holders – people who successfully claimed asylum in Germany then left to cadge in the UK, or Turks, or whoever. Just like all the “Dutch” Somails.

    I despair of people who fail to recognize this utterly obvious fact.

  • Marta Gajewska

    And I wonder what about the graduates from ‘Eastern Europe’ that aren’t here as builders or ‘house servants’. Excuse me if I find those terms fairly condescending. I thought it’s more of a North/South divide now, but maybe I’m wrong. In any case, do continue to enjoy reminiscing your London of 50 years ago, but please don’t try to project your one dimensional and oh-so old-fashioned views on the London of now.

    • Gwangi

      So would it be OK if half a million Brits (or blacks ha ha!) went to live in Warsaw, love? And get free schools, healthcare, housing – and causing a housing crisis and lowering the wages and quality of life of natives.
      You can’t even integrate the gypsies who have lived in Poland for hundreds of years, bigot.

      London was better in the past – for everyone., Now it is just a dustbin for the world’s poor and a free-for-all for the world’s rich. Ordinary native people are screwed as per usual.

      Why on earth does Britain advertise worldwide all the time that we adore immigration and multiculturalism? This makes people WANT to come here – not to France, Italy, Spain or anywhere else. But here. That is bare treachery of native Britons by leaders who have failed them. We have 5 million more in our population than 30 years ago, Now THAT is the main reason why we have a housing and healthcare crisis.

      And most Poles (not all but most) are builders or house servants – look at the facts. And stop being so hypersensitive. FAR too many Poles and other EU people have come here. Some immigration is fine. But half a million? No. And that includes scum criminals too; not all Poles are happy hardworking types. We need rules to expel homeless and parasite immigrants – fro Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

      You are lucky the Brits are so tolerant. The Poles wouldn’t be if they had mass immigration and foreigners got better treatment than they did in their own homeland.

      • Wojciech Pisarski

        I know many Polish university graduates who work in unskilled jobs because they are the easiest to obtain, such as here in Lincolnshire in the fields or food processing factories. And I am also aware of an enormous number of Polish dentists who came to Britain in the last 10 years (and latterly Rumanians). When i hear of immigrants being blamed for pressure on the health service I reflect on my recent admission to A&E where every member of staff other than the radiographer was an immigrant.

        • Gwangi

          False argument. If we didn’t have so many immigrants USING services, then they wouldn’t be under such pressure and then hospitals etc wouldn’t need to recruit foreign staff. Geddit now?
          And plenty of very well-qualified British graduates cannot get jobs because immigrants amongst others are recruited before them – either because of diversity targets or because they are cheaper.
          If a million Brits went to Poland and got free housing, healthcare and education, putting up the price of rents and houses by their numbers and lowering wages for locals, would the Poles be happy? Come off it! You have just a few gypsies and you cannot even tolerate them, let alone treat them equally, And as for the Jews…Well, we know what you did with them, don’t we…

          • Wojciech Pisarski

            Interesting argument – we’re importing immigrants to staff the health and social services to care for immigrants – ha ha. Let me assure you that the pressure on services are coming from older people – perhaps some of these were immigrants 50 or 60 years ago but recent immigrants that are so highly valued for their physical fitness, ability and work ethic are hardly in the frame to be putting pressure on the health and welfare services.

            As for ” what you did with them” – have we actually found an Englishman who is aware that the pre-war population of Jews in Poland dated back to the Middle Ages when they were being massacred in England and sought refuge in Poland ? Who is aware of the war-time rescue of Jews by gentile Poles which was the highest of any German occupied country, of the equipping of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters by the AK underground army, the rescue of 3,000 children from the Warsaw Ghetto by Irena Sendler and the Zegota branch of the AK – when Poland was the only occupied country where rescue of Jews carried an immediate death sentence for the rescuer and his family. No ? I did’nt really think so
            .

          • Wojciech Pisarski
          • SB

            Gwangi, you have just invented your entire argument. I’m not sure where you’re getting your facts from about immigrants putting the public health service under pressure and British graduates being unable to find jobs due to immigration. Your way of thinking is a right-wing one in which you blame “foreigners” for all of our problems. If you would like to educate yourself (and judging from your incoherent spoutings, you definitely should), I’d recommend you read “The Demonisation of the Working Class” or return to your BNP/UKIP meeting, your choice.

            In terms of graduate jobs, Brits aren’t overlooked because immigrant workers are cheaper (this argument is null and void in the EU anyway, where there would be no cost difference between an Italian and an English worker for example) and diversity targets often apply to non-white BRITISH graduates from atypical backgrounds.

            If so many immigrants are coming to work in the health services- then great! They’re obviously a valuable part of our workforce and should be respected just like Brits working in the same job.

          • vermilion J

            F off, you parasite.

          • mailbiter

            Kippers are absolutely terrified of everything.

      • EnglandGone

        Well said Gwangi, really well said. I am astonished by the arrogance of you Marta but not surprised. 2nd world manners from a 2nd world citizen. The EU is corrupt, the UK was tricked into it and further more the 2nd world countries were not part of the original 6 members. You were NOT invited, yet you have been welcomed. Please have some respect for the native people of this country which has benefited you so well.

    • vermilion J

      F off, parasite.

  • <–Ed balls dressed as a Nazi

    London is a foreign city. The English have been priced out.

  • vermilion J

    F off. Too many foreigners in London. Go somewhere else.

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