British attitudes on immigration have hardened – who knew? That is the utterly predictable headline from today’s British Social Attitude Survey. Only 27 per cent now think that legal immigrants who are not British citizens should have the same rights as British citizens, down from 40 per cent in 2003. More people also think that an influx of immigrants leads to an increase in crime rates.
So far, so unsurprising. But there is a more significant finding, and it is one that Ukip will not relish. Anti-immigration feeling may have peaked.
The notion that Britain is united in anti-immigrant hostility betrays Ukip’s inconvenient truth. The Britain of tomorrow stubbornly clings onto the unfashionable view that immigrants tend to be culturally beneficial, hardworking and help the perilous finances of UK PLC: they bring in more than they take out.
London is often described as the Britain of tomorrow, and the local elections exposed how little Ukip’s message resonates there. London presents a simple problem to Ukip: it is too “cultural, educated and young”, as Ukip communities spokeswoman Suzanne Evans admitted in a moment of unintentional candour.
The British Social Attitudes Survey emphasises Ukip’s lack of traction in the capital. Fifty four per cent of Londoners believe that immigration is good for the economy, compared with only 28% of people around the rest of the country.
Of course, it is now a challenge to finish a sentence containing "Londoners" without shoe-horning ‘metropolitan’ and ‘elite’ in there too. But actually London is really emblematic of Ukip’s most fundamental problem. It has a huge problem with graduates. Sixty per cent of graduates think immigration has benefited Britain economically, compared with 17% of those with no qualifications. Graduates are also much more likely to be pro-EU.
When Tony Blair appeared on Today recently, Twitter was overflowing with those lamenting that there existed no comparable figure to take on Ukip today. That may be true. Yet Blair has already done more than anyone to counter Ukip. His government’s target that 50 per cent of all young people go to university may be questionable on many levels. But it acts as the single greatest roadblock to Ukip developing support among the young.