Someone once said, witheringly, that if you wanted a microcosm of why this or that government is a failure, take a look at Portsmouth.
On a notorious visit to the city back in 2008, Boris Johnson, now Mayor of London, called Portsmouth ‘depressed and depressing and full of obesity, drugs and Labour MPs.’
That glib, inaccurate (there was only one Labour MP) and gratuitous knee-jerk of an opinion was formed in the mind of an Old Etonian toff as he purred around town in a Maybach limousine while on a car-test jolly for a magazine.
This was the man who has been quoted as saying: ‘There may be a reason I can’t think of but the problem with that reason is that I can’t think of it now.’
He is also reported to have said: ‘My friends, as I have discovered, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.’
So why does Pompey get so much stick? Well, we’re a convenient target, I suppose – far enough away from most detractors not to mind whom they’re vilifying.
Okay, we’re a densely-populated city and a predominantly working-class community (and proud of it, I suspect).
Yes, we have drug and obesity problems – what town or city doesn’t these days?
We couldn’t help the quirk of nature (the result, as it happens, of global warming many thousands of years ago) that created Portsmouth harbour, the biggest haven for ships in the world.
And what came with the navy and the dockyard? Sailors, booze, fights and women.
What we now call Old Portsmouth was so awful in Lord Nelson’s day that in a letter to Emma Hamilton he called it ‘that horrid place’ and couldn’t get away from it fast enough. But what caused the noxious nature of Portsmouth Point? His navy.
What also goes with a navy and a dockyard? Dockyard mateys. And where do they live? Largely in the densely-populated streets of Portsmouth. And what did the close proximity of the population once encourage, particularly in Portsea? Insanitary conditions.
And were the poor people of Portsmouth ever well-off? Only in times of war. And that brought, along with relative prosperity, death and destruction.