Canary Wharf is London’s second finance hub, after the City itself, and its futuristic assortment of gleaming glass towers is home to some of the world’s largest multinationals and highest-paid executives. Canary Wharf’s streets are ‘chartered’: the land belongs to the Canary Wharf Group, in turn majority-owned by US-based finance giants Morgan Stanley and Glick Family Investments. As the group’s website states, ‘Canary Wharf is not just a place, it is a company.’
For residents of London’s Isle of Dogs, which surrounds Canary Wharf, the development represents a complete break with the past. Ushered into the industrial age as the West India Docks in 1802, the site once thrived as part of the world’s largest port, which at its 1960s peak employed more than 20,000 local people.
By the 1970s, however, changes in shipping technology and a decline in British manufacturing conspired to seal the docks’ fate, and redevelopment proposals were drawn up. One plan, proposed collectively by community groups, docklands boroughs and the Greater London Council, was for a public sector-led regeneration offering affordable housing, improved transport links and new industries catering to local skills. But the newly-elected Thatcher government already had its own plan: to turn the site into an ‘enterprise zone’ with major tax incentives for private developers to create a financial centre to rival the City.
Massive petitions from community groups were dismissed by parliament, and Canary Wharf was given the all-clear. As the bulldozers moved in, a damning report by the Joint Docklands Action Group offered a grim prediction. The site, it said, would become ‘a mausoleum for a vanished community and a monument to speculators’ greed’. In the heady days before the crash, such talk had long since been forgotten, and the Canary Wharf Group boasted its success in filling the office space and ‘creating’ 100,000-plus jobs. But even a cursory glance at what goes on in those offices, and who they employ, tells a different story.
The translucent shaft that holds HSBC’s global headquarters recently presided over some of the most opaque executive dickery witnessed in 21st-century Britain, with the bank caught laundering hundreds of millions of pounds for drug cartels. Not to be outdone by their neighbours, Barclays’ Canary Wharf spivs rigged the Libor rate (the benchmark for short-term interest rates) in an infamous example of the insider dealing that pervades modern finance. They also established a prolific and secret tax avoidance factory, organising tax avoidance on an ‘industrial scale’, according to former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson, that raked in £9.5 billion at the expense of UK taxpayers before being shut down earlier this year.
And Barclays is just the tip of the skyscraper. Fellow ‘Wharfer’ KPMG – one of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms – holds the record for the world’s biggest ever fine for criminal tax fraud, a cool $456 million back in 2005. The other three – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young – are also represented on the estate.
And then there’s the financial meltdown. Strolling back in time through a 2007 Canary Wharf would be like patrolling an identity parade of the crisis’s culprits, featuring Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and insurers AIG, along with the credit-ratings agencies paid to provide the smoke and mirrors.
Long before the crash, Canary Wharf had helped propel the Thatcher-inspired shift in Britain’s economy towards speculative high finance. As a result, we are more vulnerable than ever to financial crises, while our politicians refuse to act for fear of displeasing their beloved cash cow.
Another major impact of a finance‑dominated economy for ordinary Brits has been the shocking rise in income inequality since the 1980s.
Nowhere in Europe is more emblematic of social inequality than the borough of Tower Hamlets, where Canary Wharf’s totems to ‘trickle-down’ economics overlook an area with the capital’s second-highest rate of homelessness and unemployment, and where four in ten children live in poverty. Government-imposed austerity – itself a response to the calamitous failings of the borough’s millionaire bankers – has only exacerbated this reality. Local government cuts are now prompting Tower Hamlets council to sell off council housing to private developers. Meanwhile, the speculators in the towers overhead are already busy trying to engineer the next bubble.
Occupy London Tours offers free alternative tours of London that explore how executives in the City, Mayfair and Canary Wharf helped cause the crisis.
Take action at Canary Wharf on 14 June with They Owe Us
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope