One of the striking facts about the recent European Elections in Britain (which mysteriously are being presented as a defeat for Ed Milliband, because his incompetence is the agreed-upon media narrative), is the divergence between the London metropolis and the rest of England on the matter of UKIP. Since Greater London is the most cosmopolitan part of England, this might seem hardly surprising. Many immigrants have settled there, not just during the post-1945 era but throughout history. The financial institutions of the City do well out of the European Union, not least because it might prove harder to sustain London's status as the European financial centre and linch-pin of the global financial markets outside of the European Union. But, as an historian, I find myself wondering if deeper forces are at work here, forces that are shaping one possible future not just for Britain but for the whole world.
First of all, let's look at some electoral data for three British general elections. These are not the same beast as European Elections, but I want to illustrate something about London's electoral behaviour. The data starts with the 1987 election, which is arguably the last time that Labour ran on a 'traditional' Labour economic platform. Its manifesto offered a 'National Economic Summt', continuing the tripartite partnership between unions, businesses and government that characterised the Butskellite era, a nationalistic scheme to use the tax system to retain British savings for investment in British industry, as opposed to letting the market draw British savings wherever the rates of return were best, and a mergers policy aimed at protecting the national base for technological research and development. By contrast, the 1992 manifesto included no such partnership and no attempts by government to control the flow of savings out of Britain, nor to use economic considerations to influence policy on mergers. Whether the ambitions of the 1987 manifesto would have been achievable under the regime established by the Single European Act (which took effect a few months after the 1987 election) is open to question, but without doubt by 1992 Labour's promises were more like New Labour's than Old Labour's.
The figures in the following chart are based on data at the Electoral Calculus web site. What you need to know in addition are the following 'National Swing' numbers, which sum the swing to or from Labour with the swing to or from the Conservatives, seeking to make a positive integer of it.
1987 3.5 to Labour 1992 4.1 to Labour 2001 3.6 to Conservatives
The chart shows that London's voters did not swing towards Labour in 1987 as much as the rest of the country. Whether this was caused by what we might now recognise as the anti-globalist Labour manifesto of 1987 is open to question, but the two things do coincide. In 1992, by contrast, London ran ahead of much of the country in choosing Labour. In fact, John Major's Conservatives won a narrow majority. The chart does not show 1997, in which a Labour landslide saw northern England track the national swing much more closely than it did in 1992, suggesting that Major's victory was down to him holding on to Conservative votes in Labour heartlands. 1997 represents a peak for Labour during the period under examination.
Funny things start happening under Tony Blair. In 2001, London again lagged behind a national swing towards a combative Conservative manifesto that demanded a reimagining of the European Union into 'a network Europe'. Although it was silent on the subject of immigration generally, it specifically expressed concern about the asylum system, and proposed changes to that.
The Conservative manifesto of 2005 strengthened the commitment to immigration changes, adding ideas about enhanced border security to 2001's concerns about asylum. On the European Union, a commitment to a referendum on the EU constitution was given prominence. The idea of 'a network Europe' was restated as 'a deregulated Europe'. In 2005, while the data appears to show a 'third-term fatigue' drift towards the Conservatives, in fact it masks a massive swing towards the Liberal Democrats in London, the Midlands, Yorkshire, the Northwest and the far north including Newcastle and Durham on the order of around eight percent. The Liberal Democrats in 2005 were the most anti-war of the big three parties, yet also were more committed to Europe than the Conservatives. London was continuing to show a support for the European idea, but we might also be seeing the effects of large concentrations of Commonwealth immigrants in rejecting both the Conservatives' EU antipathy and concern about secure borders, as well as Labour's support for the American war on terror.
The Conservative campaign in 2010 was almost certainly the most pro-European since the 1992 election, so I will not discuss it here. Instead, I will skip forward to the 2014 European elections and direct you to a set of charts, I think produced by the BBC, which I found on the blog of Porthleven councillor Andrew Wallis. These charts show London clearly standing apart from UKIP's voting heartland. UKIP, in fact, were strong in both traditional Conservative and Labour heartlands. Using this information, and my own studies of the general elections, I identify England as divided into four 'provinces':
London South Scotland, the northwest and northeast of the country votes more like its Scottish neighbours than other parts of England Tory England, the southeast and south UKIP England, everywhere else
UKIP is most disruptive of the old party system in an area stretching from Yorkshire south to London, and from Humberside west to Cornwall. UKIP England incorporates the area, excluding the Tory South, that was most enthusiastic about the Conservatives' 2001 election campaign, as this data show:
It is basically the old Roundhead territory of the English Civil War, except that it trades London and the Southeast for the West and Southwest. But even this is slightly misleading. In Tory England, if UKIP repeats its Euro-election performance, it could replace the Liberal Democrats as the main opposition to the Conservatives. (The Liberal Democrats in 2005 sneaked past Labour in the total vote here, and increased that lead quite sharply in 2010.) Of course, that's a big IF, but not entirely fanciful based on current polls.
The point is that UKIP is also in a position to add the Southeast to the rest of UKIP England, increasing its resemblance to Roundhead England. But it looks unlikely to add London. London, in many ways, does not now conform politically or socially to the rest of England. Unlike South Scotland, it can produce a Conservative plurality of votes (although the last time was 1992). Unlike Tory England, it votes Labour. Unlike UKIP England, it has a long-standing tradition of preferring pro-European, pro-globalisation policies, going back to 1987.
London's economic profile, as a centre of finance, services and the media, make it suited to the needs of the globalised economy. In fact, London is already a key member of a network of global cities which are the organisational centres of the global economy. These metropolitan areas include New York, the Bay Area in California, Tokyo and Toronto. What would be interesting would be to establish whether, like London, these all are developing a politics that to a greater or lesser degree diverge from those of the country in which they are situated. More importantly, are they resembling one another's politics more than they do those of the rest of their country's. I certainly think there are strong parallels between Toronto and London.
London, as the Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens proposed in February (scroll down to the heading 'London's Not in England Any More'), may not be an English city any more. The 2014 European Elections could be a sign of that.