YouGov just polled nearly 8,000 people to prove the existence of the English Midlands

Watford Gap, the traditional boundary between north and south. Image: Wikipedia.

YouGov, a pollster so committed to attracting the attention of journalists that it once literally polled an argument that Stephen Bush and I were having in the office, is at it again. It’s polled the people of the nine official English regions on whether they considered themselves to be in the north of the south, lit the blue touch paper, and retired to Twitter.

This is quite obviously a fantastically silly question: three of the regions literally contain the word “north”, two the word “south”, and two more the words “Midlands”, so you can probably predict where this is going.

The regions, mapped. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

But I’m a sucker for this sort of thing – a Venn diagram mapping interest in regional identities, unanswerable questions and silly polls designed to wind up the internet up would have, in the middle, a picture of my face – so let’s have at it, and see what we can learn.

Here are the results, in map form:

Click to expand.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of residents of the north west (92 per cent), north east (91 per cent) and Yorkshire & Humber (91 per cent) regions think they’re in the north. This is no surprise, really, because they very obviously are.

But the north east result still gives me pause for thought. I can believe that a few people in Cheshire (the north west) or north Lincolnshire (Yorkshire & Humber) don’t think of themselves as northerners. But who are these 9 per cent in the north east who don’t think it’s the north of England? Are they holding the map upside down?

The results are only very slightly less emphatic in the south. I can believe 13 per cent in the South West think that’s somehow not “the south”: only 3 per cent think, bafflingly it’s the north, with 7 saying it’s neither, so maybe in their mind it’s “the West Country” or some such.

But I’m a bit confused by the other results. What explains the 3 per cent in the South East who think they’re in the north? I can believe some Oxfordshire residents who think they’re in the Midlands, but the north? Are these people just winding us up?

And as to the 12 per cent of Londoners who don’t think it’s in the south, what’s going on there then? Especially since the southern English identity is, to the first approximation, the Home Counties one – the places from where people commute to London. How could London not be in the south of England? Does southern just mean “votes Tory” now?

It’s in between, though, where things get complicated. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people in the Midlands (65 per cent in the West Midlands, 62 per cent in the East Midlands) don’t consider themselves to live in the north or the south. Which is probably no surprise because the region is literally called the Midlands, a reference to the fact it’s in the middle between the north and the south.

But Midlanders are more likely to consider themselves northern than southern. That may reflect the quirks of regional geography: several of the region’s major cities (Nottingham, Derby, Stoke-on-Trent) are in its northern half. Then again, it may be a more psychological thing, a sign that people feel more affinity to the outsider northern identity than the establishment southern one.

At any rate, most people in most regions clearly aren't falling for YouGov's tricks and are pretty insistent that the Midlands are neither in the north nor the south, thank you very much.

And then there’s the East of England, which is by far the most confused in its place. Okay, only 4 per cent of people there reckon it’s the north, and they are all, clearly, mad. But the rest are more divided than their peers in any other region: 57 per cent say they’re in the south, 35 per cent say neither.

To be fair, the east of England is a bloody stupid idea for a government region anyway. It’s divided between the London commuter suburbs of Essex and Hertfordshire; the more distant Cambridgeshire & Bedfordshire, which are outside the capital’s footprint but nonetheless tend to look in its direction; and the relatively rural and self-contained counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.


It’s never been clear to me why these places belong in a single basket. Places like Watford or Brentwood have more in common with other M25 towns in the South East region than they do with rural Norfolk. My suspicion is that there is a much stronger East Anglian identity, but that it covers too small an area and too few people to be of much use in government statistics, so they stuck it onto a chunk of London commuter territory.

Or, to put it another way, these eight government regions are, in my considered opinion, a load of old cobblers. I can demonstrate this using a single fact: if you get on the Metropolitan line of the London Underground at Northwood and travel four stops west, you’ll pass through three of the blasted things.

Anyway, I think we can safely say this exercise has conclusively proved three things:

1) The official government regions have nothing whatsoever to do with how most people actually view their region of England;

2) YouGov is trolling me;

3) I fall for it, every time.

Has anyone coined the term “Trollster” before? If not, I’m coining it now. YouGov is a social media-savvy trollster. Good for them.

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

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Seven climate change myths put about by big oil companies

Oil is good for you! Image: Getty.

Since the start of this year, major players within the fossil fuel industry – “big oil” – have made some big announcements regarding climate change. BP revealed plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by acquiring additional renewable energy companies. Royal Dutch Shell defended its $1-$2bn green energy annual budget. Even ExxonMobil, until recently relatively dismissive of the basic science behind climate change, included a section dedicated to reducing emissions in its yearly outlook for energy report.

But this idea of a “green” oil company producing “clean” fossil fuels is one that I would call a dangerous myth. Such myths obscure the irreconcilability between burning fossil fuels and environmental protection – yet they continue to be perpetuated to the detriment of our planet.

Myth 1: Climate change can be solved with the same thinking that created it

Measures put in place now to address climate change must be sustainable in the long run. A hasty, sticking plaster approach based on quick fixes and repurposed ideas will not suffice.

Yet this is precisely what some fossil fuel companies intend to do. To address climate change, major oil and gas companies are mostly doing what they have historically excelled at – more technology, more efficiency, and producing more fossil fuels.

But like the irresponsible gambler that cannot stop doubling down during a losing streak, the industry’s bet on more, more, more only means more ecological destruction. Irrespective of how efficient fossil fuel production becomes, that the industry’s core product can be 100 per cent environmentally sustainable is an illusion.

A potential glimmer of hope is carbon capture and storage (CCS), a process that sucks carbon out of the air and sends it back underground. But despite being praised by big oil as a silver bullet solution for climate change, CCS is yet another sticking plaster approach. Even CCS advocates suggest that it cannot currently be employed on a global, mass scale.

Myth 2: Climate change won’t spell the end of the fossil fuel industry

According to a recent report, climate change is one factor among several that has resulted in the end of big oil’s golden years – a time when oil was plenty, money quick, and the men at the top celebrated as cowboy capitalists.

Now, to ensure we do not surpass the dangerous 2°C threshold, we must realise that there is simply no place for “producers” of fossil fuels. After all, as scientists, financial experts, and activists have warned, if we want to avoid dangerous climate change, the proven reserves of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies cannot be consumed.

Myth 3: Renewables investment means oil companies are seriously tackling climate change

Compared to overall capital expenditures, oil companies renewables’ investment is a miniscule drop in the barrel. Even then, as companies such as BP have demonstrated before, they will divest from renewables as soon as market conditions change.

Big oil companies’ green investments only produce tiny reductions in their overall greenhouse gas emissions. BP calls these effects “real sustainable reductions” – but they accounted for only 0.3 per cent of their total emissions reductions in 2016, 0.1 per cent in 2015, 0.1 per cent in 2014, and so on.


Myth 4: Hard climate regulation is not an option

One of the oil industry’s biggest fears regarding climate change is regulation. It is of such importance that BP recently hinted at big oil’s exodus from the EU if climate regulation took effect. Let’s be clear, we are talking about “command-and-control” regulation here, such as pollution limits, and not business-friendly tools such as carbon pricing or market-based quota systems.

There are many commercial reasons why the fossil fuel industry would prefer the latter over the former. Notably, regulation may result in a direct impact on the bottom line of fossil fuel companies given incurred costs. But climate regulation is – in combination with market-based mechanisms – required to address climate change. This is a widely accepted proposition advocated by mainstream economists, NGOs and most governments.

Myth 5: Without cheap fossil fuels, the developing world will stop

Total’s ex-CEO, the late Christoph de Margerie, once remarked: “Without access to energy, there is no development.” Although this is probably true, that this energy must come from fossil fuels is not. Consider, for example, how for 300 days last year Costa Rica relied entirely on renewable energy for its electricity needs. Even China, the world’s biggest polluter, is simultaneously the biggest investor in domestic renewables projects.

As the World Bank has highlighted, in contrast to big oil’s claims about producing more fossil fuels to end poverty, the sad truth is that by burning even the current fossil fuel stockpile, climate change will place millions of people back into poverty. The UN concurs, signalling that climate change will result in reduced crop yields, more waterborne diseases, higher food prices and greater civil unrest in developing parts of the world.

Myth 6: Big oil must be involved in climate policy-making

Fossil fuel companies insist that their involvement in climate policy-making is necessary, so much so that they have become part of the wallpaper at international environmental conferences. This neglects that fossil fuels are, in fact, a pretty large part of the problem. Big oil attends international environmental conferences for two reasons: lobbying and self-promotion.

Some UN organisations already recognise the risk of corporations hijacking the policy-making process. The World Health Organisation, for instance, forbids the tobacco industry from attending its conferences. The UN’s climate change arm, the UNFCCC, should take note.

Myth 7: Nature can and must be “tamed” to address climate change

If you mess with mother nature, she bites back. As scientists reiterate, natural systems are complex, unpredictable, and even hostile when disrupted.

Climate change is a prime example. Small changes in the chemical makeup of the atmosphere may have drastic implications for Earth’s inhabitants.

The ConversationFossil fuel companies reject that natural systems are fragile – as evidenced by their expansive operations in ecologically vulnerable areas such as the Arctic. The “wild” aspect of nature is considered something to be controlled and dominated. This myth merely serves as a way to boost egos. As independent scientist James Lovelock wrote, “The idea that humans are yet intelligent enough to serve as stewards of the Earth is among the most hubristic ever.”

George Ferns, Lecturer in Management, Employment and Organisation, Cardiff University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.