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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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