Students pose for their official group photograph at the University of Birmingham as they take part in their degree congregations. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why graduates are the biggest obstacle to Ukip's advance

Sixty per cent believe immigration has benefited Britain and are much more likely to be pro-EU.

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.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.