After Santorum

The unlikely ex-contender leaves a permanent mark on the GOP.

And then there was... one, and a couple others. As Rick Santorum yesterday ended his White House bid, the Republican party groaned, and sighed, in about equal measure. After a dirty, drawn out and, at times, beyond-petty primary season that began in Iowa on 3 January, Mitt Romney has now effectively sealed the nomination to take on Obama for the Presidency. With seven months until the November election we're forced to ask: are the Republicans any more united now they've "found" their man?

Santorum, out but not down

Little known before his February surge following Gingrich's falter, Rick Santorum has built a national presence beyond sharing the name of an egregious sex act. His bow-out spares Romney the embarrassment of losing any further states this late in the season, and also frees up the presumptive nominee a little cash and breathing space for the next two months while the final delegate votes trickle in.

But as wildly improbable as President Santorum ever was, the former Senator of Pennsylvania has left a number of marks on the political landscape. Not least of these has been the re-shaping of his opponent; as Jonathan Bernstein puts it, the candidate acted "as a mechanism for forcing Romney to hew to Republican orthodoxy". In his campaign suspension speech (below), Santorum notes he won more US counties than all the other Republican contenders combined. His appeal has demonstrated just how fractured - and in some quarters, extreme - conservative America is. To a significant proportion of the electorate - too large for either Romney or Obama to ignore - strong rhetoric on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, union of church and state) and immigration is a draw. Santorum will most likely run for statewide or national office again (see 2016?) so long as Tea Partiers and evangelicals share with him these beliefs. Before then, we should expect to hear from Santorum across commentary outlets (he's a former Fox News contributor) and as a fundraiser/advocate of conservative House and Senate candidates. This isn't the last of Rick.

The Grand Old Party in a fix

Speaking of the US media, various writers have been plotting Mitt Romney's political trajectory against that of Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for California who swung to the right, dropped $150m of her own cash and burned out of the race. Eschewing his own opinions in courting the conservative Conservatives could very likely cost Romney the vote of mainstream America. Young, college educated women (a demographic that votes) are unimpressed, as Ruth Marcus writes; as are Hispanic Americans and, broadly, the middle class. Even on his own terms, though, Romney is not making gains: attacks on Obama's jobs record will neither stick voters with nor swing them round to Mitt. With his likeability stats in the doldrums, Romney will have to reinvent himself - again - between now and November.

Surrounded by his family, Rick Santorum suspends his White House bid. Photo: Getty Images

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.