Look at the capital and you’ll see Britain’s future—better educated, less white and increasingly liberalby Jeremy Cliffe / June 18, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Since the general election, commentators from across the political spectrum have declared that the politics of London and those of the rest of the country are diverging. On the right, Brendan O’Neill writes that “vast swathes of the United Kingdom are now Labour-free zones. With one very striking exception: London. Here, Labour did better than in 2010.” On the left, Andy Burnham rails against a “metropolitan elite,” an unsubtle dig at the capital’s liberalism. The Labour MP Simon Danczuk argues that the party now needs to tailor its message on immigration to Rochdale, not Islington.
It would be foolish, of course, to deny that the capital differs in all sorts of ways from the rest of Britain. For example, inner London generates about three times as much wealth per head of population as the country as a whole. About three in five members of its workforce are university educated, compared with two in five nationally. And polling suggests that Londoners are more socially and economically liberal than Britons in general. While 40 per cent of them are non-white, the national figure is 14 per cent. Apart from Greater London’s easternmost fringes, the UK Independence Party is barely a presence in the capital.
“Though one might not know it from the opinion columns or the election results, Britain is in fact becoming more like London, not less.”
Yet the accepted wisdom—that London and the rest of the country are becoming increasingly, and possibly irreconcilably, alienated from one another—collides with significant long-term demographic, attitudinal and economic changes. Though one might not know it from the opinion columns or the election results, Britain is in fact becoming more like London, not less.
The most obvious manifestation of this trend is the dramatic growth of Britain’s ethnic-minority population, which—although there are notable differences between groups—is on the whole younger and has a higher fertility rate than the population as a whole. The non-white population is thus growing as a proportion of the total: the 2011 census showed that it comprised 80 per cent of Britain’s total population growth over the preceding decade, with the overall ethnic minority proportion of the country rising from 9 per cent in 2001 to 14 per cent in 2011.