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.