Today marks five years since the United Kingdom voted to Leave the European Union. London, as we all know by now, voted the opposite way to the rest of England — by a margin of 60 to 40 per cent. Ever since then, the capital has been portrayed as remote and out of touch, culturally disconnected from the rest of the nation.
Brexit is often explained as the victory of the long-ignored Rest of England where the ‘real people’ live. In 2019, Dominic Cummings told reporters to ‘get out of London, go and talk to people who are not rich Remainers’. But is London really so different to the rest of the nation?
Let’s start with idea that those reporters would have to get out of town to meet poor Leave voters. London was home to more 2016 Leave voters (1.5 million) than East Midlands (1.48 million) or the North East of England (778,000). So if you want to meet someone who voted Leave in 2016, you would probably find them sooner wandering around the capital than you would driving around the North East.
London certainly has some extremely affluent neighbourhoods (as does the North East, of course). However, poverty rates (and absolute numbers of those in poverty) are also higher in London than in the North East. Shamefully, the same is also true of child poverty. So your chances of encountering someone who is not rich are also higher in the capital.
That is not to say that there weren’t some clear geographical patterns to the 2016 referendum result. Look at any Brexit map and London and other major English cities stand out as Remain-voting islands in a sea of mostly Leave-voting England and Wales.