Polling shows how the politics of London differs from its suburbs

As well as skyscrapers, London also has some politics. Image: Getty.

Politics, income and age distribution are some of the measures that show a gulf separating Londoners from people living in the rest of the country. But does this divide replicate itself in their views of what they consider the key issues for Britain? Here we use data collected in the first half of 2018 by the Ipsos Mori Issues Index to show that, while divisions do exist, a greater diversity of opinion can be found within the capital than between other parts of the country.

At the national level, 2018 has thus far been dominated by public concern about Brexit and the NHS. Close to half of Britons have named either the health service (49 per cent) or the UK’s exit from the EU (46 per cent) as one of the biggest issues facing Britain so far this year. And despite it being slightly behind the NHS overall, twice as many see Brexit as the single biggest issue for the country (30 per cent, against 15 per cent for the NHS). Some way behind this top two sits a bracket of six issues, each likely to be mentioned by roughly a fifth of the British population.

In London, the picture is notably different. While Brexit and the NHS remain the two biggest issues overall, on 39 per cent apiece, both score significantly lower than the national average. Other issues, meanwhile, score more highly in the capital than elsewhere – most notably housing (mentioned by 32 per cent of Londoners) and crime (25 per cent), but also the economy (22 per cent) and poverty and inequality (20 per cent). The environment and pollution, which ranks 12th nationally, also moves into the top ten when we focus on Londoners’ views.

The fact that Londoners are less concerned about Brexit than the British population at large is intriguing, as it contradicts a pattern that emerges when we look at all other regions in Britain.

Put simply, the level of concern about Brexit is generally higher in those areas where the Remain vote was strongest at the referendum. This relationship is clearest in Scotland, but is also in evidence in the south east and south west of England, both of which are more worried about Brexit than average and were some of the regions where the referendum vote was closest. Conversely, the areas which voted most strongly to leave – the Midlands, the north east of England and Yorkshire and Humber – are the least likely to say Brexit is a big issue for Britain (although it is a top two issue for all British regions).

London, which backed Remain, is a notable exception to this rule. There are likely to be a multitude of reasons as to why: the capital’s relatively youthful population (younger people might have voted Remain, but they tend to be less concerned by Brexit) and the higher scores for a number of other issues such as housing (meaning Brexit may be less of a focus), could be part of it.

The fact that we record several issues scoring highly in London also suggests that there is a greater diversity of opinion when it comes to the issues facing Britain within London than between London and Britain. To analyse this further, we have split London into two halves – the metropolitan centre and the suburban periphery.

Residents of inner London – the boroughs within the pre-1966 County of London plus Newham – hold views that are in fact relatively close to the rest of the country. Close to half mention either the NHS or Brexit as a worry (49 per cent and 47 per cent).

Where they differ is that poverty and inequality ranks third on 30 per cent, ten percentage points above the national average, and housing is fourth on 27 per cent, eight points above the British figure. Concern about environment and pollution climbs to 15 per cent among inner London residents, and 13 per cent are worried about public service provision more generally.

By contrast, those living in London’s outer ring have a more diverse set of concerns, that differs from inner Londoners and Britons more generally. Outer Londoners place near-equal importance on three issues – housing (35 per cent), Brexit (35 per cent) and the NHS (33 per cent). The issue of housing ranks significantly higher as a concern than it does in inner London, as well as in the country at large.

Crime also stands out as a major concern: 31 per cent of outer Londoners see it as a big issue, almost double the proportion of inner Londoners (17 per cent). And while their views are in line with the national average (21 per cent), the proportion of outer Londoners worried about immigration is double the inner London total (20 per cent to 11 per cent). We see further disagreement within London on the importance of poverty and inequality: those in suburban areas are half as likely as inner Londoners to cite this as an important issue for Britain (15 per cent compared with 30 per cent).

This split goes part of the way towards an explanation of why the residents of London, our Remain-voting bastion, appear to be (slightly) less concerned about Brexit than might be expected. While inner Londoners assign a level of concern to Brexit very similar to that seen across the nation as a whole, those in outer London place equal importance on issues related to their own standard of living such as housing and crime, as they do to the still-theoretical topic of Brexit.

In fact, the data makes outer London more closely resemble the non-metropolitan areas outside the south of England than it does the centre of the capital. This can be seen in the referendum result too – while 70 per cent of inner London voted to remain in the EU, among outer Londoners the figure was 54 per cent.

Michael Clemence is research manager at Ipsos MORI. This article first appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman


A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.

Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.