An Independent London? Disillusioned Londoners Are Thinking About Going It Alone
Britain’s impending departure from the European Union is leading to increasing calls for autonomy and self-government for its pro-EU capital London.
Almost 60% of Londoners voted to remain in the EU in 2016’s Referendum and the turmoil which has followed the Brexit vote has provoked some to call for the capital to go it alone.
Geoff Hinkley and Rizwan Syed are part of fledgling organisation Londependence, which aims to represent Londoners disillusioned with Westminster.
Mr Hinkley said: “Brexit has shown London can’t trust England to make good decisions about a shared future. And without that trust do we have a future together at all? Sometimes a relationship just isn’t salvageable and you have to walk away.”
A YouGov poll conducted just after the 2016 Referendum indicated 11% of people wanted London to become a separate country.
A petition for London to join the EU as a separate country gained more than 180,000 signatures.
In 2017 Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy wrote in The Independent that London should become a city-state in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’.
The alienation between the country and the capital can also be felt on the ground.
Mr Syed, a former journalist and current web developer, said: “You hear people say it in coffeeshops ‘oh London, it’s like its own country.’”
Londependence is planning to launch a political party which would aim to capitalise on this disillusionment and give Londoners an alternative vote. Its founders remain realistic about their prospects.
Mr Hinkley added: “We are trying to build an idea that people will vote for and the only way to get more than a candidate’s name on a ballot paper is to have a political party.
“We don’t have any illusions about winning much just yet but it shows we know where we want to go.
“We are a movement in its infancy. We’re not in a position to launch a broad appeal to the public. Our immediate goal is just to be doing something that people who are interested in the idea of Londependence can get involved in – even if that something is not all that effective yet.”
The group wants greater autonomy and self government for the capital, which polls suggest is a relatively popular idea amongst Londoners.
YouGov’s July 2016 survey found that 23% of Londoners want a London Parliament, with devolved powers similar to Scotland’s.
“We want to be free to use our city’s own considerable talents to fix the problems that matter to Londoners. We are sick of London subsidising the rest of the country while Londoners are shouted down as metropolitan elites or foreign interlopers,” added Mr Hinkley.
While Brexit has been the catalyst for much of this dissatisfaction, the cultural, political, and ideological differences between London and England have in any case been widening in recent years.
London’s population is just under 60% white compared with 86% for England and Wales.
Around 9% of England’s population is aged 25-34 with that age group forming 24% of inner London’s inhabitants.
The 2011 Census showed 37% of London’s population was born abroad making it the world’s second highest foreign-born population after New York. This number falls to around 14% for the UK as a whole.
These differences are visible in UK politics. A look at a map of the 2017 General Election results shows London as an island of Labour-red amongst a sea of Conservative-blue.
Londoners envious of successful independent city state Singapore are now taking inspiration. How apt are the comparisons between the two cities?
Singapore and London bear some interesting similarities. Both are financial superpowers, have a multi-ethnic population and carry tremendous soft power.
Singapore was incorporated into the Federation of Malaya, along with North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak, in 1963, to form Malaysia.
This was largely done on the premise of a customs union which Singaporeans felt would boost their economy.
Malayan nationalists were wary of Singapore and its ethnic Chinese majority which they felt could upset the country’s ethnic and political balance.
It was feared that Chinese Singaporeans would harbour Communist sympathies giving that movement a platform in Malaysia proper and allowing for Beijing to influence Malaysian affairs.
This led Malaysia to unanimously vote Singapore out of the federation, effectively forcing independence on the city state.
Singapore today is a thriving financial superpower, and is viewed by many as a model for successful statecraft. Many in Malaysia sorely regret its expulsion.
Parallels can be seen here with London’s relationship with England and the EU.
Like Singapore’s when compared to Malaysia, London’s population is vastly different ethnically to England’s in general.
Londoners fear significant damage to its economy should Britain leave the European Customs Union, just as failure to establish a customs union post-independence damaged Malaysia economically and hindered Singaporean/Malaysian relations.
Malaysia could not reconcile itself with Singapore’s assumed natural predisposition to left-leaning politics and as Londoners shift increasingly left politically this could be reflected by those in England who view those in the capital as ‘metropolitan elites’ and ‘foreign interlopers’.
It is no wonder that secessionists in the capital look to the Lion City as an example.
London however remains very much the English capital. Unlike many western countries, in which various cities serve important roles, London is England’s cultural, political, and financial centre.
While initiatives such as Northern Powerhouse fail to get off the ground, London continues to establish itself as the world’s pre-eminent ‘global city’.
An England without London is almost as hard to imagine as an independent London, and it is not easy to predict which of the two would be more successful.
While fledgling organisations like Londependence are embryonic at this stage, London’s power relative to the nation as a whole could see small movements like this one make a huge impact.