Eight thoughts on YouGov’s polling on what Britons think about London

How could anyone hate this, eh? Cor. Image: Getty.

Those click hungry cats over at YouGov have done it again – conducting a poll that looks suspiciously like it only exists because it’s the sort of thing that might go viral. Let’s gloss over the fact I fall for it every single time and get down into the weeds.

This time, it’s the capital that the polling firm has been polling about – basically, do people in different bits of the country like it?

Here are the results, in the form of a map:

And here are some of my thoughts about that map:

1. London is surprisingly popular

The capital has a net favourability rating of +17: while 28 per cent have an unfavourable view of the capital, 45 per cent have a favourable one. (The rest are various flavours of “don’t know”.)

I’m genuinely a bit surprised by this: maybe I’m just a delicate flower, but the impression I’ve had of late is that everyone outside the M25 bloody hates us. So this is a pleasant surprise.

2. It gets less popular the further you go from it

Generally, the southern and eastern bits of England – those closest to London – have broadly favourable views of it. Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the North West and far north of England have broadly unfavourable views.

This might go some way to explain London’s unexpected lack of unpopularity: the population of Great British is clustered towards the south eastern end of the island, so I’d guess that something like 60 per cent of the total must live in the broadly green bit.

3. Poorer areas are less keen on London

Scotland and Wales plausibly have their own reasons for disliking the capital, not least that it serves as a symbol of English domination. So set those aside, and look instead at the English regions with the most negative view of it: Cornwall, the north west, the north east... All are on the wrong side of the major faultline running down the middle of the British economy. Even in Yorkshire, which is broadly positive to the capital, it’s South Yorkshire, the most depressed part of the county, which is by far the most negative.

There are exceptions, like affluent Cheshire; by and large, though, this is a gazetteer of the parts of England which have struggled most economically over the past few decades.

Since another way of describing the north-south divide is “London’s dominance of the British economy”, it’s perhaps no surprise that residents of these regions don’t think much of the capital.

4. In the south east itself, the results are weird

The economic explanation breaks down when you get closer to the capital. It’s very unclear to me why Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Sussex – rich regions all – should like the capital less than the other counties around them.

The only explanation that comes to mind is that they’re all places that attract migrants from elsewhere in Britain (top universities, good jobs, etc.), so maybe they bring their views with them. But I’m reaching.

5. People who don’t like London tend not to like cities

One of the largest differences between the pro- and anti-London groups is their response to the statement, “I think cities are grey and depressing”: 61 per cent of London-haters agree with that one, compared to 35 per cent of everyone else. In the same way, 53 per cent of anti-Londoners agree with the statement, “I could never live in a big city”.

6. There is such a thing as a self-hating Londoner

Oh hang on, no, it’s actually other people they hate.

The research also finds that anti-Londoners are nearly twice as likely to believe that multiculturalism has had a negative impact on the UK as everyone else: 57 per cent to 32 per cent. To quote the write up:

“This relationship holds true across all parts of Britain, and is especially strong amongst Londoners who are themselves anti-London.”

In other words, of those who live in Greater London and think multiculturalism was a bad idea, more than two-thirds of them also have an unfavourable view of the capital. Whatever could it mean.

7. We can fix this, if we want to

I quote:

“Having lived in London seems to boost people’s opinions of the city: 43 per cent of pro-Londoners have done so (with 21 per cent living there currently), while only 23 per cent of anti-Londoners have ever resided in the city (with 6% living there currently).”

So, all we need to do to get everyone to love London is to force everyone to live there for a bit.

I see no possible downsides to this plan.


8. YouGov is trolling the Celtic nations

The map stops in the central belt of Scotland, effectively cutting off everything north of the Forth Bridge. It doesn’t feature Northern Ireland at all.

I assume there’s a boring explanation for this (“It’s harder to poll Northern Ireland, and the map was too small when we included all of Scotland”) but it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing calculated to go down brilliantly in the non-English bits of the UK.

Anyway, this was fun. Not quite as fun as the time they commissioned a poll on whether the DLR is a tube just to annoy me, but fun nonetheless.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 


CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.