Are demographics against Ukip and anti-immigration feeling? Photo: Getty
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Has anti-immigration feeling peaked?

Many voters the main parties have lost to Ukip are now gone for good.

Ukip’s looming victory in the Rochester and Strood will be the latest reminder of the potency of immigration in British politics today. As the latest Ipsos MORI Issues Index survey reminds us, the public considers immigration to be the most important issue facing Britain today.

Yet the notion that Britain is united in anti-immigrant hostility betrays Ukip’s inconvenient truth: May 2015 might mark the high point of the public’s concerns with immigration. 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 by bringing in more than they take out.

Age is the great dividing line in the immigration debate. 20 years ago, concern about immigration was relatively equal between different age cohorts. Now it is overwhelmingly the preserve of the elderly: 51 per cent of over 65 year-olds consider immigration to be among the most important issues facing the country today, compared with 23 per cent of under-25s.

Perhaps most significant is the educational divide. As this year’s British Social Attitudes Survey found, 60 per cent of graduates think immigration has benefited Britain economically, compared with 17 per cent of non-graduates. As well as being better educated, those at university are more likely to develop friendships with foreign people and go on to study or work abroad. In time, Tony Blair’s target that 50 per cent of young people go to university might just be the single greatest roadblock to Ukip’s advance. Despite the trebling of tuition fees in 2010, there are more young people studying at university today than ever before.

The rise in university students is not the only reason to suggest that anti-immigration feeling may soon have peaked. Paradoxically, people become less concerned by immigration as they are exposed to more of it. 64 per cent of the white British population in the 10 per cent least ethnically diverse wards think that immigration should be "reduced a lot" compared to 44 per cent in the 10 per cent most ethnically diverse wards.

If London represents the future of Britain, it is one that should terrify Ukip. The 2011 Census found that 37 per cent of Londoners were born outside the UK, and only 45 per cent of London’s population was white British. The capital was a palpable exception to the embrace of Ukip this year. Perhaps, as Ukip communities spokeswoman and deputy chair Suzanne Evans suggested, London is simply too “cultural, educated and young” for the party.

This should all pose a warning to political parties about trying to mimic Ukip’s rhetoric on immigration. Ultimately, tub-thumping on immigration, and perpetuating myths rather than challenging them, will lose more votes than it gains. Many of those voters lost to Ukip are now gone for good. Chasing forlornly after them will only alienate the rest of the electorate.

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

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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.