A tale of two cities

A tale of two cities
British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) greets Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (right) as he arrives for a meeting at Downing Street in central London on March 27, 2014

On Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon received London’s Freedom of the City award while on a visit to the British capital. This is a transcript of his speech.


I first visited London in 1969. I was a teenager, and London seemed marvellous. It was the Swinging Sixties, and London was the capital of cool.

Yet, it was also a time of upheaval: Protests against the Vietnam War, student sit-ins, hippies and flower power. I had an enjoyable but sober time attending plays and concerts, exploring museums and art galleries, and spending hours browsing in the greatest bookshop in the world - Foyles.

Later, I went to university not in London, but in Cambridge, then still in splendid isolation in the Fens. But I would visit London regularly because my late first wife, Ming Yang, was then a medical student at the Middlesex Hospital. Hence, London in the early 1970s held many happy memories for me.

But for Londoners and for Britain, those were difficult times. The British Empire was over, and Britain was adjusting to its new place in the world. Bitter union disputes afflicted the economy and disrupted lives.

I especially remember the miners' strikes because the consequent blackouts caused me to attend supervisions (tutorials) in Cambridge by candlelight.

Global events were also affecting the British economy. In 1973, I arrived at Heathrow Airport having spent the summer back home.

I found a group of Arabs excitedly trying to find out what was happening in the Middle East. The Yom Kippur War had broken out. It led to the first Opec oil shock, which caused inflation and recession worldwide. This worsened England's woes, and cast a pall over London for years.

But by the end of the decade the situation and mood improved. Mrs Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979. Mrs Thatcher's reforms were fiercely contested, but they fundamentally altered Britain's economy and society.

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