Jayne Dowle: Why I feel London's pain and fear for all our futures despite the Queen's reassuring leadership

I LIVED in London for 14 years. I still visit the capital, and skirt its sprawling outskirts to see family in Kent and Surrey. I remember the sheer energy of the'¨West End and the beauty of the River Thames and exactly where to stand on the Tube.
The Queen met firefighters following the Grenfell Tower blaze.The Queen met firefighters following the Grenfell Tower blaze.
The Queen met firefighters following the Grenfell Tower blaze.

I’m proud that my son, now a teenager, was born there. You haven’t experienced the sharp end of the NHS until you’ve given birth in a London hospital. I’m glad that I can speak with some authority about living right in the middle of an ancient city millions of people from all over the globe now call home.

But I am so sad that the city I loved is suffering so much. It is more than suffering. London appears to be imploding in on itself. Riven by inequality and poverty, and the stark segregation engendered by resentment, it is in a state of terrible churn.

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What makes it worse is that distressing recent events have taken place against the backdrop of a bitter General Election in which political leaders have torn into each other with little care for the collateral damage they have caused.

Prime Minister Theresa May now struggles to find the appropriate combination of concern and authority as devastating news after devastating news rocks her equilibrium. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seems to grow in stature with every reassuring hug he gives out.

Yet we should not judge our political leaders entirely by their actions during this unprecedented interregnum.

We shall see what happens after the Queen’s Speech as this new Parliament sets off on its rocky course. What shall remain though is that in the vacuum of power which has existed these past few weeks, we have been reminded that leadership comes in many forms.

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This has been especially brought home by the presence of the Queen herself, accompanied by members of her family, at the scene of terrible events. Where political leaders have flailed, the monarch has proved her ultimate purpose.

It has also been clear in the actions of the hundreds of local people who rushed to the aid of those left bereft by the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. And it was implicit in the responsible actions of the young imam at Finsbury Park Mosque, who urged his brothers to stay calm when a father-of-four drove a van into worshippers with the intention of murder.

It is painful to remind ourselves that in the space of a just a few short months there have been three terrorist attacks in London – Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and Finsbury Park – plus the fire which has claimed at least 79 lives, many of them already precarious through poverty, in North Kensington.

I know all of these places well. Westminster always jogs the memory of taking my aunty from Barnsley to see the sights for the first time when she was in her seventies. I’ve a treasured photograph of her laughing with a guardsman on horseback. Innocent days.

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London Bridge and Southwark? I worked around here in newspaper
offices for years and still use Southwark Bridge over the river if I drive through the city. Finsbury Park? I lived in nearby Islington, close to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency. Finsbury Park held a huge music festival every summer and we knew it well for its rollicking Irish pubs.

And before that I lived in Paddington, in the shadow of the A40 which rumbles west-ward away from the metropolis into suburbia. This major artery passes beside the awful blackened shell of that fated 24-storey tower block. If I still lived in Paddington, I would smell the lingering smoke every morning and cast down my eyes every time I caught a glimpse of the pyre.

I tell you all this not for the purposes of self-indulgent reminiscence but to express my sadness that London is suffering so much. I loved that city, but I left it when I came back to Barnsley in 2003. There were all kinds of reasons why, but one of the major turning points was the nightmares.

It was soon after 9/11. By then I lived on the Isle of Dogs and I could see Canary Wharf out of my kitchen window. As Londoners do, I soldiered on every
day, not allowing threats or danger to intrude.

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After all, I was working in Canary Wharf when the IRA detonated a bomb at nearby South Quay in 1996. Nothing bothered me. Until I started to have the recurring dreams that I would be trapped in the city following some unspecified disaster, separated from my baby son by soldiers with guns and unable to get home to my parents in Yorkshire. I never imagined then that the threats could come from within the city I had grown to call my home.

I left London, but London has never left me. I watch what is happening
 now and fear not just for the streets and the people I knew so well, but what it means for us all. If this is indeed not the stuff of nightmares, but the “new normal”, we will need all the leaders we can get.