Brixton High Street. A quarter of people in England will be from minority ethnic groups by the time of the next census in 2021 (© Getty Images)
Britain’s social experiment with large-scale immigration just got even more interesting. The results of the 2011 census tell a story that is both encouraging and worrying. Most of the big picture was expected (as Philip Collins has written in the February 2013 edition of Prospect). But on one thing the experts were caught by surprise—London becoming majority-minority. The historic white British majority in the city is now in a minority. The old imperial capital truly has seen the empire striking back and it seems that native white Londoners do not like it.
For it is important to realise that the share of the white British population in London fell so dramatically from 59.8 per cent in 2001 to 44.9 per cent in 2011 not only because of high levels of immigration (both white and non-white) but also thanks to an exodus of white Britons. The number of white British Londoners fell by 600,000, about three times higher in absolute terms than over the previous census period, 1991 to 2001.
This is one of the biggest “misses” by the relevant experts in recent years. Most of the academics who study these things had not expected London to go majority-minority for another 20 or 30 years. Leicester was meant to be the first big town to cross the symbolically significant line though as it happens Slough got there first, and now has a white British population of just 34.5 per cent. (Leicester has also crossed the line, along with Luton.)
But it is London where the change has been most spectacular. I asked a London MP who represents one of the areas where the white British population has fallen below half how many of London’s 33 boroughs had now passed that point and he said: “I would guess five or six.” It is 23.
Is it happening because of “white flight,” meaning discomfort with the changing racial composition of an area? Looking at the boroughs where the exodus has been biggest and most rapid—Newham, Enfield, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham—it is hard not to see race, or at least a desire to live among people you are familiar with, as a factor.
Take Barking and Dagenham.…