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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A warped mirror: on gentrification and deprivation on London’s Caledonian Road

The London Overground crosses Caledonian Road. Image: Claude Lynch.

Capital cities are, more often than not, a focal point for the stark divide between rich and poor – places where the most economically deprived meet the most economically empowered. In London, these divides can be more than stark: they can be close, even intimate, and there are districts where crossing the street can be like entering a different world. One such street is the Caledonian Road.

Known local as “the Cally”, Caledonian Road runs for about a mile and a half, from Kings Cross to the Nags Head junction in Holloway, and was built in 1826 to provide a new arterial route to the north from the West End. At first, developments on the road were sparse; among the first notable buildings were the Royal Caledonian Asylum, which gave the road its name, and H.M. Prison Pentonville.

For some time, the northern half of the road was seen as far removed from central London, which stymied development. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century residential development really got going. By the time Caledonian Road station opened on the Piccadilly line in 1906, the area was flush with Victorian terraces.

These, though, mainly lay on the eastern side. To the west, the proximity of King’s Cross prompted the development of heavy industry, particularly the clay kilns that were helping to build Victorian London proper. The divide had begun:  the east side of the street, the area known as Barnsbury, was notably quieter and calmer than the west side. Ever since the 19th century, the ‘V’ formed by Caledonian Road and York Way has been known for a high incidence of gang violence and social problems.

As in many parts of London, the end of the Second World War brought a chance to start from scratch. Many of the slums to the west of the Cally had been bombed to smithereens, and those that remained still lacked gas and hot water.

But this was the era of municipal dreams: Islington council cleared the slums and constructed the Bemerton Estate. Instead of reflecting the industrial history of the area, the estate reflected Barnsbury back at itself, treating Caledonian Road as some sort of warped modernist mirror. The square gardens of Barnsbury were reimagined as the spaces between the highrises of Bemerton, and this time, they were actually square.

The estate was immediately popular, its open design prompting a renewed sense of community in the west. But it didn’t last.

Square gardens on one side, not-so-square on the other. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

As far back as the 1950s, Islington had already become synonymous with gentrification. Forty years later, before moving to Downing Street, Tony Blair’s London residence was Barnsbury’s leafy Richmond Crescent. House prices in the area have gone through the roof and now Barnsbury is mainly home to a the professional elite.


At the same time, though, Caledonian Road’s warped mirror has given Bemerton the exact opposite: in spite of attempts to rejuvenate it, downward spiral of deprivation and antisocial behaviour have blighted the estate for some time The promise of inviting square gardens and communal living has been inhibited by crime and poverty; the gardens lie empty, while those in Barnsbury thrive.

The disparity of wealth across Caledonian Road is regrettable. That’s not just because it speaks to a wider segregation of London’s rich and poor – a phenomenon exemplified last year by the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington & Chelsea, the richest borough in Britain. It’s also because, in the Bemerton Estate, planners had thought they saw an opportunity to offer more Londoners the idyll of square gardens and leafy streets, often reserved for the richest.

It might be too much to claim the estate as a failure; events such as the Cally Festival aim to bring together both sides of the road, while other council programmes such as Islington Reads help to foster a greater sense of neighbourhood.

Road should never divide us; rather, they should unite those who live on either side. The spirit of Caledonian Road should cross the gap – just like the railway bridge that bears its name.