Identity is a hot topic. National identities are widely contested, not least in the United Kingdom, with intense debate around what it means to be English and British in the modern world.
There has been less consideration of how London fits into this debate. As the capital’s economy and culture has boomed, London’s population is changing rapidly, and becoming much more diverse. Some commentators see London as the epitome of rootlessness and weak integration. But Londoners seem as keen to identify as Londoners as they were 40 years ago, with much less variation by class, age or politics compared to national identities.
However civic identity is also informed by and intersects with many other identities and characteristics, and there may be fundamental differences in the way London identities are understood in different communities. Ethnicity and religion are stronger elements of identity than locality in the UK as a whole, but we do not know how they affect the understanding of the London identity.
London identities encompass many unifying features, from landmarks to experiences, to a celebration of the city’s cosmopolitanism itself. London’s mayors should continue to engage widely and to celebrate that diversity, and the positive and inclusive elements of London identity. But, while a strong sense of identity can help unify the city, define its brand, and promote social solidarity, seeking to rigidly define and strengthen London identities from the top-down risks being counter-productive and widening gaps between London and the rest of the UK.