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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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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