According to new demographic statistics released on Thursday, Britain is becoming more populous, diverse, urban — and older. More Britons are being born than dying off, more are living in cities (especially London), and net migration remains high. The UK population is 64.6m, up by about half a million over the past year.
These trends are well-established but it is fascinating to look at the data and speculate on how demographics influence public policy and politics.
Consider, for example, the UK’s “population pyramid” in 2014 versus 2004. It breaks down the British population by age. The bars refer to 2014 data and the black outline traces what those numbers would have been in 2004.
I spent a few days in South Thanet last week trying to find out whether Nigel Farage might after all lose his campaign to become MP for the Kent constituency. Polls have the United Kingdom Independence party leader in a three-way tie with his Labour and Conservative opponents, though bookmakers still have him as the favourite.
A common complaint among local opponents of Mr Farage is that he is rarely in the constituency. When he does appear, he is cocooned in celebrity: the Ukip leader is surrounded by members of the media and security guards. When I visited the local Ukip office in Ramsgate on Thursday afternoon, it was shut. Not famed for his reticence, Mr Farage’s low profile might strike many people as surprising. Read more
In an interview with Trevor Philips, former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to be broadcast by Channel 4 next week, Nigel Farage, argues that laws against racial discrimination are no longer necessary. He also insists that the United Kingdom Independence party, which he leads, is a “colour blind” political party.
I doubt it*. But here I want to query the assumptions behind his first point: that Britain has moved on, and there is no discrimination of any note in 2015.
“[P]erhaps the biggest polling movement in recent UK history that almost no-one has heard of”, is how Professor Roger Scully, a leading authority on Welsh politics, describes the decline since 2012 in support for the Labour party in Wales.
I can’t speak for others’ knowledge of Welsh politics, but Prof Scully might be right:
Last year, the United Kingdom Independence party won more votes than any other party in Britain’s European elections. It bested the Liberal Democrats in the local elections that took place the same day. But Nigel Farage’s outfit performed poorly in England’s big cities. It won no council seats, for example, in inner London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Ukip’s urban tally was a sign of an increasingly important divide between cities and the rest of England.
That urban and rural areas have different politics isn’t of course a new observation. Tory-Whig parliamentary battles were often proxies for conflicting views between landed gentry and city dwellers. More recently, Labour has dominated northern cities and the Conservatives have won the rural south with similarly huge margins.
What is new is how big cities – especially their cores – are once again expanding and, in doing so, taking on a clearer liberal identity. Cities is where Britain’s open and cosmopolitan outlook is most apparent. But politics has so far failed to catch up. Read more
It often seems that there are only two types of voices in the debate on immigration. One rails against all immigrants and how they hurt the economy and the British way of life, whatever that may be. The other, in effect, mansplains, by persistently and condescendingly asserting facts about the benefits of immigration to the UK.
This leaves a large moderate majority of the country without a voice, according to an important new research report by British Future, a think tank dedicated to better understand of how immigration affects the country. Sixty-one per cent of people it polled have a mixed, moderate view of immigration; only about a third of Britons are absolutists. (The remaining share presumably say they don’t have an opinion.) Read more
If opinion polls prove accurate, on Thursday the UK Independence party will win its second-ever by-election – and its second in two months. Victory in Rochester and Strood – whose demographics are less amenable to a Ukip win than Clacton, which the party won in October – would be its latest hefty thwack to Britain’s mainstream political parties. It would lead Labour and Conservative members of parliament to call for their parties to change position on immigration, based on the assumption that Ukip’s policies are behind its success in the polls.
This is a superficial reading of why Ukip and other populist parties are gaining support across Europe. Contrary to what they or Jeremy Clarkson may say, party leaders have been talking a lot about immigration. They have changed their policies. And yet Ukip marches on. Something more profound is happening in politics in the UK. For a deep and prophetic analysis of what is going on, turn to Peter Mair, an Irish political scientist who died in 2011. Ruling The Void, his last and latest book, is a terse and cogent explanation of “the hollowing of western democracy”. Read more
And doesn’t he have lovely moustache:
The image is produced by YouGov, a polling and market research company. Using its database of opinion surveys, it has built a nifty new marketing tool that shows the quintessential characteristics of the people who like a certain brand. This brand could be a newspaper, a supermarket, a music group – or even a political party Read more
Supporters of the United Kingdom Independence party are in the right place if they ever have to fulfill their pledge to protect Britain’s borders. The map below from Robert Ford and Ian Warren depicts the parliamentary constituencies where there are relatively large shares of UKIp-leaning voters. The darker the shade of purple, the higher the number of would-be Farage supporters, the psephologists say.
The consequences of this geography on the general election are unclear. (One could add that it will all come out in the Wash.) Labour and the Conservatives may have lost similar numbers of votes to UKIp, according to Steve Fisher, a political scientist. Whether Mr Farage’s party loses their support in equal measure at the general election will help determine whether he can affect who forms the next government.
The political map can also tells us something about how Britain is changing. Nigel Farage’s party is relatively popular on England’s coasts; its target seats at next year’s general election are mostly southern and eastern littoral constituencies. This is partly down to demographics. In these areas live above-average numbers of what Ford calls the “left behind”: older, white working-class voters with less formal education.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Paul Skyes, a eurosceptic businessman who claims he spent nearly £5m campaigning against Britain joining the single currency, announces he is now “going to roll some guns out” for the United Kingdom Independence party. Mr Skyes, who interestingly insists “I am not in party politics,” will fund Nigel Farage’s party ahead of the European parliament elections, where UKIp is forecast to receive the most votes. Read more