After UKIP’s triumph in the European elections, shell-shocked liberal types searched for a silver lining. They found it in London, where UKIP came third not first, securing only one MEP.
A contrast was drawn between the provincial knuckle-draggers who voted for Nigel Farage in droves and the sophisticated, prosperous, go-ahead Londoners who told him to go back to where he came from – i.e. the 1950s.
At least, that was the crude caricature that inspired a number of newspaper columns I could mention. However, these overlooked one or two salient facts, including this one from a must-read David Goodhart essay in the latest Demos Quarterly:
“UKIP, which won 17 per cent of the vote in London, outpolled Labour by almost two to one among white voters in the capital.”
So what the comparison between our dynamic capital and the “backward shires” actually tells us is that (a) UKIP doesn’t do very well among ethnic minority voters and (b) London has a lot of ethnic minority voters:
“As recently as 1971 the white British made up 86 per cent of the London population. In 2011 it had fallen to 45 per cent, down from 58 per cent in 2001; that means 17 per cent of London’s white British residents left the city in the decade after 2001. Nobody, including the academic experts, expected London to become a ‘majority-minority’ city as soon as the 2011 census.”
It will be argued that immigration is precisely what makes our capital so dynamic – and is a key part of the progressive British future taking shape in London today.
However, one has to ask why such a high proportion of white Londoners are voting for a party that isn’t exactly welcoming this future with open arms. One also has to question whether the London model is working for non-white Londoners:
“There is… greater ethnic inequality in London than elsewhere in Britain: in London 40.5 per cent of white British adults are professionals but just 25.5 per cent of minorities are. In the rest of England and Wales the gap is only eight percentage points. Part of the reason is that the average white Briton in London is more affluent than whites elsewhere in the country.”
Goodhart shows us that behind the facade of tolerance, London isn’t nearly so integrated as we might think it is – with different ethnic groups living in different neighbourhoods, going to different schools and voting for different parties.
Then again, community of any kind is a hard thing to sustain in such a transitory population:
“According to the UCL publication London 2062… London’s ‘revolving door’ saw total inflows/outflows of 6.8m in the period 2002-2011. In around one third of the 33 London boroughs the equivalent of half their populations move in or out every five years. There is churn in all big cities, but not normally on this scale (at least in the developed world)…
“And according to a poll commissioned by the Yorkshire Building Society in 2013 only 13 per cent of Londoners trust their neighbour – again the lowest figure in the country and one third the level in Scotland and Wales.”
Furthermore, the financial benefits of all that labour mobility are concentrated in the hands of a wealthy elite. Ordinary Londoners, on median incomes, are barely better off than in the rest of the country – while being fully exposed to the social downside.
It strikes me there are three responses to this situation (aside from the leftwing ones): Firstly, to close our eyes to everything but the upside – which is the metropolitan liberal approach. Secondly, to accentuate the negative without having anything positive to say – i.e. the UKIP formula. Or, thirdly, there’s the long and difficult path of one nation conservatism: to seek the restoration of community and the extension of opportunity to Londoners of all backgrounds.