Support for UKIP is lower in London than anywhere else in England. And recent research suggests that the “Out” vote is likely to be lower in London, too, than in the rest of the country. Why? The answer to that question may tell us a lot about London’s relationship with the rest of Britain.
A capital city is the brain and heart of a country and for centuries London was the brain and heart of England: a clearing house for people, ideas and money, all of which flowed into London and back again, in due time, to other parts of the country. There have always been opportunities in London and there still are. Dick Whittington was discouraged at first, but he went back, got ahead and in his time became famous as Lord Mayor of London. Throughout history, London has drawn in enterprising people from other parts of Britain and provided them with the opportunities they lacked at home. The symbiotic relationship between London and the provinces has always drawn Britain together. Sir Richard Whittington probably bought himself a country seat, not too far away, and commuted on horseback between there and his home in the City. In the nineteenth century, the railways made it easier to commute on a weekly basis over greater distances. The steady flow of talent to London and of wealth to the rest of the country continued.
It’s still happening, but with a difference. Travel has become easier, not just throughout the United Kingdom, but over the whole world. London is still a magnet for energy and enterprise, but now not only for the people of Britain. In many respects, London has become the capital of the world. London speaks the international language, English; London is a major financial centre, with close traditional links to Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Everybody in the world wants to come to London, perhaps initially as a tourist, then if they are young and can get into Britain and get started, as a place to live and perhaps prosper. And as we in UKIP know, it’s not difficult to get into Britain.
London now has a symbiotic relationship, not as before just with the rest of Britain, but with the world. And this is good for London and for the world, but not so good for Britain. London is flourishing. Drive into London along the A40 (M) and look at the skyline. There are tall cranes in every direction. These building sites are drawing in workers not from Glasgow and Cardiff and Liverpool but from Eastern Europe. A few of these immigrants will do well, like Dick Whittington, and become site managers and independent contractors. Travel by Underground and how many of those around you are talking English? London has a great university – or a cluster of great universities – which attract students from every country in the world. As a result, it has become very difficult for British students to find places. At LSE, with its worldwide reputation, it is almost impossible. English teenagers, if they can’t get in to Oxford and Cambridge, apply for places at provincial universities. Scottish and Welsh teenagers have free higher education if they stay in Scotland or Wales.
New graduates from British universities have difficulty in finding jobs. There are jobs in London for bright graduates, including those with degrees in subjects irrelevant to business, but the jobs tend to go to those who already have a foothold in London and can be available for a month or two to go to interviews. Most cannot afford to sign a lease until they have a job.
London property prices have lost their usual link with property prices elsewhere. They have always been higher, but the price ratio was fairly constant over time. Now London prices are rising but prices elsewhere are not rising in sympathy. How do the immigrants manage? They are immigrants and they do not expect high standards. They are willing to rough it for a year or two, hoping to build up their resources over time. People from other parts of Britain are accustomed to reasonable accommodation and expect it right from the beginning.
This disconnection of the previously natural flows of population, ideas and money – in both directions – between London and its British hinterland is an important cause – perhaps the major cause – of the alienation of the Scots. . The Scots bitterly resent being ruled from London. London is a foreign capital towards which they have no warm feelings. It has not always been so. When Scotland signed up to the Union in the eighteenth century, Scots came to London in great numbers. Dr Johnson’s biographer Boswell was a Scot. Adam Smith was a Scot. Smith’s Scottish friend David Hume wrote the first great History of England in many volumes – a classic for a hundred years. And many Scots went back again and helped to develop Scotland. The great intellectual flourishing of Scotland at the end of the 18th century was triggered by the free flow of ideas, people, books and journals between London and Scotland. Without the Union, it would not have happened.
The people of the “provinces” still benefit to some degree by London’s prosperity, but now mostly through taxation and redistribution by the state. Londoners are starting to express irritation that (they feel) the rest of Britain is living on the prosperity of London. When they go on holiday, they seldom go to the seaside and countryside of Britain any more – they go to Europe or farther afield, in search of the sun. The rest of Britain is “the sticks” a very uncool and uninteresting place – not at all where you want to go when you feel the need to escape briefly from the real world of work in London.
The relationship between London and its British hinterland are what, in the past, has held Britain together. And Britain still needs London and London still needs Britain, Only by renewing that intimate relationship can we hope to preserve the historical heritage which we have in common.
There are implications for future UKIP policy – but also for UKIP campaigning. London’s attitudes towards UKIP and towards the EU are bound to be different from the attitudes of the rest of Britain. Most Londoners do not know much about the EU and approve of it in a general way as part of the new international world to which London belongs and in which London is flourishing. It will be hard to rally them to the flag of British patriotism. Londoners are proud of their great city rather than proud of being British. But they need to be made more aware that London owes much its current prosperity to the fact that alone among the great countries of Western Europe, Britain has kept its own currency. That alone we have, so far, retained. For Britain’s sake and for London’s sake, we must keep it. And there is much which we have given up, which for London’s sake and for Britain’s sake, we need to get back.