Ukip trades in the language of fear and division; it seeks power in order to reject responsibility. Photo: Getty
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Ukip trades in the language of fear and division. The left must not humour its anti-politics crusade

One day Nigel Farage will occupy the same position in our cultural memory as Chris Eubank. But until then, the left must stand up to Ukip.

There was a time when it was difficult to avoid Chris Eubank. The champion boxer would turn up on chat shows wearing one of his dapper “Countryside Alliance meets Rupert the Bear” three-piece suits, twiddling his cane ruminatively and talking at length about the terrible burden of being able to beat the living shit out of people. Through those long years of listening to Chris Eubank, it was difficult to imagine a time when it would no longer be necessary to listen to Chris Eubank; or that the exquisite sensitivity of Chris Eubank could ever cease to be a subject of media fascination. But gradually, and without anyone really noticing, that time did come. And now you never really hear about Chris Eubank at all.

In my more optimistic moments, I feel sure that Nigel Farage will one day occupy the same position in our cultural memory. “Oh, that guy,” we’ll say, suppressing a shudder and reaching for a drink. “Yeah, he was . . . they were . . . that was a weird time.” Or maybe we won’t be allowed to forget him. Even if the results of the European elections mark the peak of Farage’s success, we’ll never be rid of him. They’ll wheel him out as some kind of Elder Statesman, won’t they? Every time there’s a riot he’ll turn up in the news studios, like a geriatric Popeye, wheezing and burping through all the old routines about Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration, as the young presenter nods professionally and wonders what the hell Britain thought it was playing at in May 2014.

A question many of us have been troub­ling ourselves with over the past few weeks is: “Exactly what is the correct way to despise Ukip?” Is it just a bunch of bitter old men pining for a Britain that never existed? Or is it a dangerous force of reaction, poisoning the debate about immigration and the EU with parochial anti-politics and straightforward xenophobia? Jokers or jingoists? Fools or fascists? And shouldn’t we be engaging with their policies instead of just calling them names?

There’s a picture doing the rounds on social media which I think shows up these false distinctions nicely. Maybe you’ve seen it: some godforsaken Ukip headquarters with a frayed Union flag and an A4 printout saying: “If your not Ukip Your not BRITISH”. Oh, how we laughed – Ha ha they can’t even spell! But the style is indivisible from the content. The first is a schoolboy error; the second is a schoolboy sharpening a stick at both ends. Can you imagine a Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem or Green supporter committing to paper the idea that to favour any other party disqualifies you from being British? I can’t. Missing out an apostrophe or two does not make you an idiot. But equating party allegiance with nationhood certainly makes you a thug. And thugs don’t often notice that they’re thugs, usually because they’re also idiots.

Let’s also consider the recent comments by Gordon Ferguson, a Ukip candidate in Southport, Lancashire: “The Lib-Lab-Cons have conspired with a foreign power, the EU, and are all thereby guilty of treason. They have sold Britain, which is the fifth largest economy, illegally into increasing slavery inside the EU dictatorship. Those responsible should be hung by the neck until dead.” He also throws in a thrilling reference to the Freemasons. A nation sold down the river, foreign powers, scapegoats and conspiracy theories . . . Is any of this starting to sound familiar? I ask only because, if I’m going to be accused of name-calling, I’m very keen to get the name exactly right.

Is this fascism? It’s hard to tell, because fascism begins as your friend. It says: “I feel your pain. You are not responsible; those responsible are the political establishment, who’ve allowed the foreigners among us to flourish. The foreigners are doing your job because the decadent elite are all the same and only out for themselves. Only we understand. Only we can defend our country from the corrupt politicians and parasites among us.” Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration, Europe and immigration . . .

Fools or fascists? Ukippers are the kinds of fools who haven’t noticed they’re sleep-walking towards fascism. Many Ukip candidates are of the age when their parents fought in the Second World War. They don’t recognise what they see in their own party literature because they’ve learned not to look too closely. Their business is anti-politics, something they share with those on the left who join in with the chorus: “They’re all the same – they’re just in it for themselves.”

Ukip trades in the language of fear and division; it seeks power in order to reject responsibility. Putting a cross next to a box for Ukip is a pastime for people who like elections but don’t much care for democracy. If you vote Ukip, you’ve been had. And if you don’t vote at all – by all means complain about the consequences but don’t be surprised if no one listens. “What would sir like to eat?” “I’ll just have what everyone else is having.” “What if sir doesn’t like it?” “Well, at least that won’t be my fault.”

Labour’s more radical ideas are beginning to inspire genuine enthusiasm. Only concrete progressive, redistributive policies, advocated clearly and with passion, criticised fiercely and with intelligence by the other parties, can fill the void that the anti-politics brigade has occupied for too long. The arguments ahead should be conducted with whatever civility we’ve got left in us. But that, I’m afraid, is more than Ukip ever deserved. Their beast has been fed, for now. But these elections will be remembered for when the arguments couldn’t be heard at all, drowned out as they were by the sound of too many of us swarming like flies around the head of a pig on a stick.

Robert Webb is appearing in “Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London WC2. For details, visit: jeevesandwoosterplay.com

Robert Webb is a comedian, actor and writer. Alongside David Mitchell, he is one half of the double act Mitchell and Webb, best known for award-winning sitcom Peep Show.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Peak Ukip

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com