By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2014
CONSIDER this for a contradiction. According to a recent survey, London is the world's most coveted place; the British capital's dynamism and welcoming approach to foreigners makes it the destination of choice for the largest number of people seeking a job abroad.
Yet at the same time, Britain is gripped by a powerful backlash against immigrants: if general elections took place today, up to one in five of all Britons could be voting for a party whose only political platform consists of a pledge to seal the country's borders against all incoming foreigners.
How can one explain this gap between a welcoming city and a hostile nation?
Simple: London is no longer representative of the country to which it serves as capital; instead, it's a city which has effectively created its own way of life, a parallel social ecosystem.
Nor is this phenomenon of the "urban bubble" confined to Britain alone, for Europe has other capital cities which increasingly also have little to do with their countries.
It is a trend which carries profound and long-lasting political implications, although few of these have been understood by Europe's current political class.
Profound differences between towns and their countryside have, of course, been a feature of European life for centuries. But at no point have such disparities been as large as they are today.Take London, Europe's biggest metropolis, as an example. Its population makes up just 13 per cent of all UK residents, but the city accounts for a quarter of the British economy. On a per capita basis, Londoners are 30 per cent wealthier than the rest of the United Kingdom. And they are also much better educated: 40 per cent have a graduate degree, more than double the national average.
But it's the ethnic diversity of London which is most striking. Almost half of its population is foreign-born, compared with just 9 per cent nationwide. And while 95 per cent of Britons identify themselves as "white", only 59 per cent of Londoners do so.