The politics of immigration petitions

I’ve been digging a bit further into the huge amount of data available about petitions to the UK Parliament. Two of the most popular petitions in the last year were about migration, but took very different approaches:

  • “Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK” – 450,287 signatures
  • “Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated” – 463,500 signatures

Both petitions ran for six months and closed earlier this year. The website gives the number of signatures from each Parliamentary constituency, so I’ve made a scatter-plot from this data showing how opinion on migration varies in each seat.


Each dot here represents a different Parliamentary constituency. The horizontal position is the number of signatures for the pro-refugees petition; the vertical position shows how many people signed the anti-immigration petition. I’ve coloured each dot according to the party that won the seat at the 2015 general election. So Cambridge, for example, with 2,559 pro-refugee signatures and just 316 anti-immigration, appears well away from the main group of seats.

Of course only a small fraction of the residents in each seat signed one of the petitions – up to about 5% – but this still gives a general indication of the balance of opinion about migration in each seat, and the pressures this is likely to put on each seat’s MP.

As you can see, most of the seats are clustered towards the corner of the graph, with roughly equal numbers of pro- and anti- migrant signatures, though more seats are on the anti side. A small number of heavily anti seats float above the main group, and then there’s a “long tail” of increasingly pro-refugee seats stretching away along the horizontal axis, all the way to Hornsey & Wood Green with 3,767 pro-refugee signatures and just 158 anti-immigration.

Looking at the distribution for seats held by each party tells an interesting story too. Here’s the graph again, with just the Conservative-held seats emphasised:


Most of the seats are in the main cluster, with just a few outliers. At the top of the graph, the Essex seat of South Basildon & East Thurrock registered the most anti-immigration signatures, with the neighbouring Thurrock seat having nearly as many. Meanwhile, the most pro-refugee Conservative seats were all relatively affluent: Richmond Park, Oxford West & Abingdon, Battersea, and Twickenham – three of the four held by the Lib Dems before 2015.

The graph for Labour-held seats is also quite striking:


Here the pattern is a great deal more widely scattered than for the Conservative-held seats. The densest group of Labour seats is firmly in the anti-immigration part of the graph, noticeably more so than for the Conservatives, but there’s a wide range of opinion, with a “long tail” of pro-refugee sentiment. Three of the four most pro-refugee seats are in north London: as well as Hornsey & Wood Green, there’s Diane Abbott’s Hackney North & Stoke Newington, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North, with the former Lib Dem seat of Bristol West completing the group. Overall, this graph vividly illustrates the range of pressures on Labour immigration policy.

Here’s the pattern for seats held by Britain’s third party, the SNP:


There’s a wide range of opinion here, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the SNP now holds almost every seat in Scotland. It’s noticeable that the SNP seats tend to be on the outside of the graph, perhaps indicating a greater overall level of political engagement amongst Scottish voters following the 2014 referendum.

The handful of surviving Lib Dem seats are also fairly widely scattered, but without much anti-immigrant sentiment:


Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat is the most pro-refugee of the group.

Finally, the sole UKIP seat, Clacton, is as you might expect well to the anti-immigrant side of the graph:


Although it’s not as high up the anti-immigrant axis as some Conservative-held seats, it’s one of the least pro-refugee seats – and noticeably close to the densest part of the Labour graph.

Immigration has featured strongly in polls about the most important issues facing the country, and this looks likely to continue. I’m sure there will be plenty of more petitions on the subject, providing further insight into how this issue affects British politics.


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