What makes a Londoner? And how does someone become one? Redfield & Wilton’s poll of Londoners, with lots of input from On London, reveals some conflicting views and a fairly complicated picture.
The London identity is clearly widespread. A full 80 per cent of those surveyed said they considered themselves “Londoners”, with 13 per cent saying that they would “not yet” use the term, implying they would do so at some point in the future, perhaps when they have lived in the city a little longer. Just seven per cent said they didn’t consider themselves to be Londoners, full stop.
This chimes with other polling, such as a Queen Mary University of London poll in 2017 which found a similarly high figure for a comparable question on identifying as a “Londoner” and that this identity was shared fairly evenly across political divides, age groups and social class in the city.
But the Redfield & Wilton poll suggests opinion is split as to how long it takes to become a Londoner. When asked how long someone would have to live in the city in order to qualify, around one in ten thought three months was enough and a similar number thought six months would do it. This suggests that one in five of those living in the capital think you can become a Londoner in less than a year – for them, it is a very inclusive and easily acquired identity.
However, at the other end of the scale, 20 per cent of Londoners said they thought someone has to have been born in the city to actually call themselves a Londoner. Roughly the same amount said it would take ten years or more of living in the capital to consider themselves one.
At the time of the last last census, 2021, around 40 per cent of people living in London were born overseas, and the poll suggests at least some of these people must consider themselves Londoners. Yet there is clearly a noticeable part of the city’s population that thinks they are wrong to do so.
In addition, whilst 45 per cent of Londoners think the level of immigration in the United Kingdom is “appropriate”, over a third (37 per cent) think “there is too much. Just one in ten say there is not enough immigration, which is the position recently taken by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, citing the capital’s labour and skills shortages.
There is more consensus over increasing diversity in the capital, which can, of course, be fuelled by birthrates and internal migration as well as immigration from overseas. Fifty-seven per cent of Londoners said that the city becoming more ethnically and racially diverse was a good thing for the city. But, again, one in five believe the opposite. Another one in five thought it neither a good nor bad thing.
Finally, just over half of Londoners (51 per cent) believe London’s population is now majority non-white. As I (and many others) pointed out late last year, this is simply not true. Just over half of Londoners identify as white, with 37 per cent identifying as White British. However, the ethnic composition of London’s boroughs varies significantly.
In other words – London is a pretty liberal place overall, and is much more comfortable with diversity than Paris, for example. However, there is a noticeable chunk of its population that appears not to share the same vision of the capital.
So it is true that around four in five of those living in the city identify as Londoners, and the same percentage believe that you can acquire the identity without being born here. More Londoners think that immigration is at the right level than think it too high. And a majority of Londoners think that the capital’s increasing ethnic and racial diversity is a good thing.
But were you to pick five Londoners at random, chances are that one of them would think that immigration is too high, that increasing racial and ethnic diversity is a negative for the city, and that those 40 per cent of Londoners who are born abroad are not truly Londoners at all.
These views may be held by different individuals across the five random Londoners, or they might all coalesce in one person. But it is a sizeable minority in a city with an extremely liberal reputation. And you might have to ask another five before you found someone who agreed with the Mayor’s view that immigration needs to be higher.
And of course, these numbers are based on what people are willing to say when polled. “Social desirability bias” can lead respondents to give what they believe to be the “correct” answer, so it is entirely possible that the minority view is a little larger in private.
London is clearly a diverse place – even in terms of its opinions regarding its own diversity.
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