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Identity, power and influence in the towns of England

The Centre for Towns is interested in understanding how public attitudes differ in different places; the concerns, aspirations and expectations of citizens living in towns and cities across the UK. Britain’s political geography is changing – and towns are at the centre of this tilting of the political axis.

 Our involvement in the BBC/YouGov survey

A couple of weeks ago the BBC released the results of a large and detailed survey looking at the components of English identity. One of our co-founders Ian Warren, along with Dr Kevin Cunningham, was involved in building the MRP model to estimate patterns of English identity at a local level. As part of this process the BBC and YouGov were given town-level estimates for each of their survey questions.

Over the next few days we will be releasing the results of those town-level estimates. In constructing the MRP model for the BBC it was possible to identify around 300 towns for which we could provide robust and reliable estimates of opinion. We have endeavoured to provide estimates of opinion for as many towns as possible, cutting across the whole of England.

The survey

The BBC were interested in understanding not only how powerfully people identify as English, but also the components which make up a person's sense of Englishness. Which aspects of Englishness contribute to their sense of identity and which don't. What did people believe made them and other people English? Being born in England? Having English parents? An English accent?

The survey also asks about local rivalries between places, and we are able to list the strongest rivalries between towns across the country. Importantly, these rivalries are free-text fields in the survey, meaning that what we publish is what was written by the respondents to the survey.

At our launch event, Will Jennings published evidence to show that people in towns feel that they are less central to British society than people in cities. That they are more likely to believe politicians don't care about their area, and to feel less well off than cities. All of which point to sharp divergences in perception between our towns and cities, some of which may have been catalysed and exposed during the European referendum campaign in 2016.

Luckily for us, the BBC/YouGov survey does ask about how much power and influence people believe they have over decisions made on their behalf. It also asks who they would like to be making decisions on issues such as local schools, the NHS, house-building, immigration and transport.

Summary of the survey questions

Below is a shortened list of the questions included in the survey, and for which we have town-level estimates.

1. How strongly do you identify as.......? Options include: English, British, European, from a particular county, from a particular town

2. Do you feel more English than British? More British than English? Equally both?

3. What contributes to your sense of English identity? Options include our history and heritage; our diverse cultural life; sports and leisure activities; English poetry, literature and art; English music and dance; the English countryside; England's Christian traditions.

4. What makes a person English? Options include: Being born in England; having English parents; speaking with an English accent; having lived in England for a period of time

5. Do you think your local area is getting better or worse?

6. How strongly do any of the following add to your sense of belonging to where you live now? History of the area; a local accent; cultural traditions; local sports teams; local food items; local arts and culture

7. How much opportunity do you have to influence the decisions that affect your life?

8. How much opportunity do you have to influence the decisions that affect the place you live?

9. Should Westminster, the local council or a combined authority make decisions on NHS services, local schools, immigration, and local transport?

10. Do you believe that politicians in Westminster reflect the concerns of people in my part of the country?

This is a summary snapshot of what is contained with the survey. The BBC have already released some excellent interactive elements for local authorities across England and we would strongly recommend that you check out the BBC Englishness output.

The next few days.....

We will be slowly dripping out the survey results for over three hundred places across England over the next few days. Keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook feed and we will be publishing interactive maps for all of the published survey results so you can dive in and look up the places nearest to you.

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