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Britain’s cosmopolitan future

Britain’s cosmopolitan future

Jeremy Cliffe

14 May 2015


A new Policy Network paper on the big-picture demographic, social and economic changes that influenced the British election of 2015 and that will shape the elections of 2020, 2025 and beyond

In the wake of Britain's general election, its political parties are taking stock and looking to their futures. As they do so, they need to consider the megatrends convulsing and transforming the country at large. Its ethnic minority population is booming; its cities are sucking in ever-more people, jobs and investment; its university-educated population is growing fast; its links with the outside world are becoming closer and more numerous. This paper describes these and other trends that together point to a "cosmopolitan" future for the country. It discusses their impact on lifestyles, attitudes and party politics; drawing a series of conclusions about how politicians should adapt to them. It argues that, for all the challenges that they present, and the turbulence that the upcoming period of transition will entail, Britain's cosmopolitan future is a bright one.

The paper comes as an intense debate kicks off in the Labour party about how it can renew itself and as the first all-Conservative cabinet since 1992 boldly stakes a claim to be the natural party for working people in modern Britain.


  • The trends enumerated in the paper – the ethnic minority boom, the rise of the cities, the increase in the graduate population – are not isolated changes. They are together forging a more plural, open, fast-moving, post-industrial country where the political assumptions that held true for the postwar decades no longer do so.

  • The changes described in the paper suggest that a strategy of "reconnecting with traditional voters", in either of the main parties, is at best insufficient and at worst actively counter-productive, because the electorate is churning and changing faster now than ever. 


  • The changes described in the paper are disproportionately acute in the sorts of middle England constituencies where the Conservatives won the election and where Labour lost it. Marginal seats like Nuneaton, South Swindon, Warrington South are, for example, becoming more diverse faster than is the country as a whole.


  • The paper argues that politicians and policymakers should embrace cosmopolitan change (praising, for example, George Osborne's ‘northern powerhouse’ agenda) and that the alienation of parts of the country not experiencing its benefits is best met with neither sneers nor pandering (both of which are patronising in their own way) but constructive policies to wire them in to the new drivers of prosperity and progress: better transport connections, better broadband and digital inclusivity programmes, new housing in and around the cities. 


About the author:
Jeremy Cliffe is the Economist's UK politics correspondent and is due to become its "Bagehot" columnist in July. He studied at Oxford and Harvard universities. He also writes and presents BBC Radio 4 documentaries and produces occasional op-eds for the Guardian and the Evening Standard.


Launch event:
Policy Network will launch the paper at an event in Westminster on Thursday 14 May.

Media contact:
Ben Dilks, bdilks@policy-network.net


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