The year is 2016. Tedious conversations on the impending Brexit vote dominate dinner parties across the capital.

Tom Foster, leader of the Londonpendence Party, wasn’t bored of those chats. He was angry.

“What I was disenfranchised with was the way things were handled at Westminster,” he says.

Foster wasn’t the only one pondering the disastrous impact leaving the bloc could have on the capital. An online petition for London to become a city state and join the EU passed 160,000 signatures.

“A few of us then thought about this idea… well why don’t we go further with it?” Foster says.

What started as a couple of meetings at the pub between Foster and some allies spawned into an actual political party that campaigns for London to essentially be hived off from the rest of the UK.

Its cause isn’t just about the significant differences in the way Londoners view issues such as Brexit and immigration compared with the rest of the country. If it were an independent EU member state, the party says, London would have the sixth largest economy, while the capital pays £38.8bn more in tax than it gets in public spending.

Londonpendence received official legal recognition as a political party in 2019 and put up candidates for Greater London Authority elections two years later.

That wasn’t overly successful. Londonpendence didn’t win a London-wide assembly seat. (A rosier take could be that the sum total of 5,746 votes it received was more than the 4,383 votes UKIP scored in its first election in 1992.)

Things at Londonpendence haven’t grown that much since then. Foster admits his is “not a huge party by any stretch of the imagination” with around 25 members as it stands. But “once the resource is there”, he does have ambitions to expand.

Much like London itself, Foster, a business analyst for a housing association by day, is a man of contradictions. He voted Brexit at the time, putting him out of step with the majority of Londoners — “but didn’t expect the very hard Brexit”. He does live in London — sort of — specifically the London borough of Sutton, and only travels in for work once or twice every couple of weeks.

His party is also one of contradictions. In a city famed for its industriousness, introducing a four-day working week across the capital “would tie into the kind of values” Londonpendence goes after, Foster says. Amid an apparent crisis in law and order on London’s streets that has captured the attention of politicians of all stripes, Londonpendence would also legalise cannabis.

You might think that a party looking to take a city like London, which is so reliant on financial and professional services, independent might take a softer line on the City too. But turns out, it doesn’t.

“My personal view is that bank bonuses should be capped,” Foster says. “I can see the merits of there not being a cap and attracting bankers to the City, however, my own personal politics is that… we don’t need to get to a point where it needs to get too much in terms of wages. It doesn’t always trickle down.”

He doesn’t have much time for the government’s post-Brexit vision of London as a world leader in sectors such as fintech and cryptocurrency either.

“As important as the fintech sector is — and we should never lose sight of that and do everything to make it as successful as it can be because it makes us all successful — what is most important is the people of London. That is central to the values of our party.”

There is plenty of redistributive zeal behind Foster’s and Londonpendence’s politics. The party would introduce an empty homes tax, for example, and wants to fund more social homes to combat the capital’s housing “emergency”.

But it still certainly has one eye on making sure the City thrives, something which it believes both the Brexit vote and the current chaos in Westminster has thrown into jeopardy.

“One of the main drivers for growth is the fact that we are outside the single market for financial services,” Foster says. “We are taxed from Europe for many areas such as clearing. I get the rhetoric in terms of growth, but in terms of tangible actions where all our services are going to, it doesn’t quite wash.”

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak was forced to abandon a so-called equivalence deal for financial services in the wake of the EU split, as accusations that our European peers were being deliberately obstructive to teach the UK a lesson swirled. But for Foster, while EU truculence is “an argument” for why the UK has been left worse off, it was an entirely predictable outcome.

“They’ve got mandates from their own people, their own sovereignty. I can be here and beg for mercy as it were, but at the end of the day if you’re in a negotiation, it’s give and take. We’re not putting the giving in.”

Those errors that UK politicians are making to the detriment of the City are continuing, according to Foster.

“Stability is a really important factor for London going forward,” he says. “What we’ve learned from Truss and Kwarteng is you can’t just go in and make rash decisions and implement them right away without letting business do their processes and put systems in place.

“When it changes every five minutes, that’s when markets get a bit funny.”

As for ‘levelling up’, that catch-all catchphrase coined by former prime minister Boris Johnson, “levelling up the rest of the UK should not mean levelling down London, and too often it does,” Foster says.

But at the end of the day, he doesn’t believe that agenda will pose a great threat to the capital. It is a city that continues to evolve in a post-pandemic world.

“London has already changed our ways completely in terms of more people are working from home – though I think actually they were doing it before – but with the tech that’s around now people move away from the city and more to the sticks anyway. They work away from the city more often than not.”

That’s an evolution that the capital can use to its advantage.

“Offices will move out of London; that’s a challenge for the future but also opportunity as space that was there before can be used in different ways. Housing would be near to the top of the list, but there are other ways as well.”

Foster might not see his dream of London independence become a reality. But at least the winds of change might blow more in Londoners’ favour going forward.

Justin Cash is online editor at Dow Jones title Financial News. Follow him on Twitter: @Justin_Cash_1 or on LinkedIn here.

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