I’ve written a lot recently about the gap between metropolitan and provincial, and the role it plays in explaining Donald Trump, Brexit and other such nightmares. There’s a pair of maps doing the rounds this morning which – partially, imperfectly – illustrates my point.
Last Sunday morning Graham Guest started a petition on the UK government website calling on prime minister Theresa May to withdraw her invitation for President Trump to make a state visit to the UK. Within 24 hours that petition, widely seen as a protest about the US immigration policies which came into force over the weekend, had racked up 1m signatures. At time of writing it’s heading for 1.8m.
Here’s a map of where people are signing, by percentage of voters in each parliamentary constituency. Darker colours mean higher numbers.
If you’re thinking that most signatures are coming from relatively small areas you’d be right. Those protesting Trump are most likely to be found in cities, especially those with large numbers of students and young people: areas with particularly high concentrations of anti-Trump feeling include Brighton, Cambridge, Edinburgh, the university district of South Manchester and much of inner London.
A day later someone launched a rival petition calling on the government to stick to its promised state visit, on the grounds that the UK “does not believe that people that oppose our point of view should be gagged”. (Actually it says “appose”, but, y’know.) At time of writing that one’s up to 200,000 signatures.
Here’s the map:
The sea of dark red means that, at first glance, this looks like a surge of support for the state visit. That's nonsense, however: firstly, we're looking at lower numbers across the board (so dark red here means much smaller numbers than dark red on the first map). Secondly, it's only a sea of red because support is more heavily concentrated in geographically bigger but relatively sparsely populated constituencies.
The highest concentrations of signatures can be found in rural and coastal areas, as well as non-rural but non-booming areas like southern Essex and the M62 belt. The lowest concentrations are in the inner cities again, as well as Scotland. (Northern Ireland may be a bit of a red-herring as hardly anyone there is signing either petition.)
In other words, very roughly, provincial Brexitland is signing the pro-state visit petition, while cosmopolitan Remainia is signing the anti-state visit one.
I don’t want to overstate this: there are pretty big exceptions to this pattern. Some of the strongest concentrations of pro-state visit voters can be found in London constituencies – the Cities of London & Westminster; some of the more affluent suburbs – that you’d struggle to call “provincial”. (Although even there, the pro-visit petition is getting far fewer signatures than the anti-visit one.) There’s probably an element of old-fashioned left/right politics at work here, too.
Nonetheless, these petitions look like yet another sign of the fact that, culturally and politically, cities often look more like each other than they do like the areas around them.