The United Kingdom has never had an entirely straightforward relationship with its capital city. London, unlike its global rival New York, is simultaneously the political, economic, business and cultural heart of its nation state. The city’s gravitational pull is strong, drawing in people, jobs and investment from around the world and across the country.
Throughout its history, London’s dominance has often been portrayed as a ‘problem’ for its host nation. But its growth has proved near impossible to constrain. Postwar attempts to halt the capital’s expansion, with an assumption that this would help the UK’s ‘regions’ to recover and grow, ultimately failed to achieve either goal and were mostly abandoned.
However, the past decade has seen this island nation surrounded by increasingly stormy seas. A financial crash, global in its nature but channelled into the UK through London’s financial centre, brought austerity upon the entire nation. Rising nationalism in Scotland led to a referendum that came close to ending the union. And the EU referendum of 2016 saw London side with Scotland and Northern Ireland against every other English region and Wales and vote to Remain.
In what appears to be an increasingly Disunited Kingdom, how is the relationship between the capital and the nation state changing?
Centre for London’s ‘London and the UK’ research project is looking at how London is perceived, how it is working with other parts of the country to mutual benefit, and exploring new ideas to help better share the capital’s success and unite the nation. Two new YouGov polls for Centre for London and the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London have looked at how the capital is viewed – both by the rest of the UK, and by Londoners themselves – to inform this research.
How is London viewed today?
Despite the wider context of political turmoil and upheaval, most people in Great Britain are proud of London as a capital city – 56% of Britons said that they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ proud of London, with just over a quarter saying the opposite. Scotland and Wales, (which have their own capitals), had the least pride in London. Within England, pride reduces incrementally the further north you travel – but even in the North of England, the majority are still proud of the capital (51%).
But, the capital still has a lot of work to do.
London is overwhelmingly seen as expensive and inaccessible. The vast majority of Brits outside of London said they didn’t think living and working in London was “a realistic option for people like me”. “Expensive”, “crowded”, “diverse” and “chaotic” were also top of the pack, when non-Londoners were asked to pick from a list of words to describe London. And those who live in the capital view it in much the same way – Londoners picked the same top three words to describe their home city.
Whilst London’s contribution to the UK economy as a whole is widely recognised across the nation, people outside of the capital don’t see that where they live. A clear majority (77%) of people think that London contributes either ‘a lot’ or ‘a fair amount’ to the UK economy, but only a small minority (16%) believe it contributes much to the area where they live.
How can London share its success more widely?
Well, despite many feeling that London’s economic success doesn’t reach them, there is no great enthusiasm for moving British institutions out of London. We gave respondents ten institutions that they could choose to move out of the capital to make the UK ‘a fairer place’, including royalty, central government, the civil service, national museums and the national press. Despite being able to choose up to three institutions to move, the top choice for Londoners and non-Londoners alike was ‘None – I don’t thinking moving anything out of London would make the UK fairer’.
Of those non-Londoners who did choose an institution to move, the most popular option was government departments, but fewer than one in five people thought it would make a difference. Just one in ten non-Londoners said that moving national media out of London would make the UK a fairer place – despite the BBC’s partial relocation to Salford, and the upcoming move of Channel 4.
Brits might be proud of London, but too many people feel excluded from the city. With little appetite for simply tearing up the capital and redistributing its institutions around the country, we must find more nuanced and innovative ways to ensure that London’s success is better shared with the rest of the nation. Centre for London’s ‘London and the UK’ project, which reports in January 2019, is aiming to do just that.
About the data
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample sizes were 1218 in London and 1883 in the rest of GB. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3-6 September 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of London adults and GB adults outside London (aged 18+) respectively. YouGov are a member of the British Polling Council and abide by their rules.
- The rest of GB data can be found here and the London data here.