White flight hits London - Macleans.ca

White flight hits London

It hardly fits the city’s tolerant, multicultural vision, but white Britons are now the minority in London

White flight hits London

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The most startling bit of data buried in last December’s U.K. census was the sharp decline of the white British population in London. Over the past decade, it turns out, the British capital has seen roughly 620,000 white natives move out. That’s like the entire population of Hamilton up and leaving over the course of 10 years. As a consequence, white Britons now make up a minority of the city’s residents, at just 45 per cent, compared to 60 per cent in 2001.

It’s a disconcerting trend, smacking as it does of “white flight,” the mid-to-late 20th-century American population shift that saw much of that country’s white middle class abandoning crime-ridden city centres for leafier, more racially homogenized suburbs. That shift left many American cities divided along racial and class lines, with some commentators blaming it for leaving many downtown cores (Detroit’s, for instance, or Cleveland’s) husks of their former selves.

But in Britain, where racist attitudes have seen a sharp decline, the trend seems particularly out of step—especially in a multicultural capital like London. Interestingly, the census also revealed that the nation’s mixed-race population has risen to 12 million and mostly resides in London. So the rather awkward questions left to the population experts are: who are these fleeing white British, where have they gone, and why are they leaving?

The conundrum is baffling academics. “Most geographers did not expect London to become a majority minority city for another 20 or 30 years,” Eric Kaufman, a specialist in ethnic migration at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, recently told the Financial Times—“they have underestimated the extent to which white people have opted to leave an increasing diverse London.” And few politicians seem to want to touch the issue, which doesn’t fit with the mainstream vision of a tolerant, multicultural Britain.

The analysts are divided on the question. A new report by the BBC’s home editor Mark Easton says the trend may not be driven by xenophobia at all, but something much more innocent: the white working-class dream of selling up and escaping to the seaside. But David Goodhart, author of the forthcoming book on immigration, The British Dream, says “certain areas of London have changed more quickly than most people are comfortable with. It’s not racist, it’s basic human social psychology that people want to move on.”

Glancing at a population map of the U.K.’s demographic shift, it’s immediately apparent that the exit of white Britons was not from the city’s affluent core (where the international super-rich have settled en masse in the past 10 years, resulting in a higher international white population of wealthy Europeans), but in the more suburban, down-at-heel outer boroughs. In particular, Barking and Dagenham, two boroughs on the city’s outer eastern edge—the latter made famous as the setting for the period film, Made In Dagenham, about a group of female factory workers who fought for equal pay at a Ford plant in 1968—have seen a dramatic drop in their white British population. It’s perhaps not coincidental that these two areas were the only parts of London in the which the British National Party, the anti-immigration party, actually had some traction during the last election.

But as with most things British, the story is complex. Dagenham was cemented as a working class stronghold with the 1931 opening of the Ford plant, which gave rise to the British suburban dream. But the U.K.’s manufacturing sector has since all but dried up (Ford Dagenham, which at its peak employed 40,000 workers now barely employs 4,000 and will further contract this year). And in the last two decades, many of the boroughs’ public housing residents went from tenants to owners, thanks to a government scheme allowing residents to buy their council houses for 30 per cent of market value. “For many white British households, the 2000s had left them without a job but with a sizable chunk of capital in their home,” Easton explains. “Some had also benefited from redundancy payouts and pension deals offered by Ford. It was a cue to move on.”

While some emigrated abroad, many others moved to coastal towns or quiet villages in the countryside. New research shows that smaller communities in sleepy parts of counties like Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Essex have seen a 10 to 14 per cent rise in their white British population in recent years. And one need only take a holiday to any quaint seaside village on the Suffolk or Norfolk coast to see the explosion of new residents renovating their recently acquired homes.

So is this London’s white flight? Not exactly. White bright new beginnings is more like it. Just goes to show that sometimes, for some lucky people, even economic downturns have their upsides.


White flight hits London

  1. Why do you call it racist and xenophobic when the British people want to live around each other, but not when the immigrants take over sections of cities. I don’t know what they’re trying to do to western world with this over immigration, but most people, including long time immigrants, know it won’t be to benefit them in any way.

  2. What a silly, “progressive” piece of fluff this is – talk about being in desperate denial. White people are moving out because they do not like their new “neighbors” – simple as that. I was in London recently – you couldn’t get me to live in Barking or Dagenham even if my life depended on it. Even anywhere in London, truth be known. Call it what you will – racist is the usual “attack”. It is not the least racist to prefer living away from people with diametrically opposed values to yourself – and especially you do not want to raise your children there. And of course idiotic socialist economic policy like selling property for less than 1/3 what it is worth – what did they think would happen – of course, people will take the equity and scram. But Brit politics since Maggie has turned London into an economic and social hellhole where everyone is afraid of his own shadow – heads down, cap over eyes, video cameras everywhere. Of course progressive yuppies like to call the concentration of foreign faces “cosmopolitan” but aggressive, demanding, Middle Eastern immigrants are not exactly the benign, hardworking cosmos from democratic countries that came to London in the past, now are they? Brits are escaping to the “beach” because they are hoping they can live in peace ’til they die – then they will let the kids deal with the social squalor they have left behind. Even then Maclean”s will still be trying to sell us on the idea that “this issue is complex” even after all of London has been taken over my the unpleasant immigrant hordes that are driving them there.

  3. People naturally gavitate to their own culture, it is what people feel more at ‘home’ around. There is a reason people aggrigate and has nothing to do with race or xenophobia but comfort and familiarity people want associated with their home. You treat the white British culture like trash but celebrate other cultures and people will leave and find appreciation. Forcing multiculturalism will always fail but letting it naturally develop will be far more peaceful and have greater longevity

  4. Only whites are accused of ‘racism’. They say they are anti-racist, what they are is anti-white.