Tim Farron addresses an audience. Photo: Getty Images
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The Lib Dem leadership brought their party closer together. Labour's is tearing them apart

The Liberal Democrats' short contest has allowed that party to get back on the road to recovery. Labour's long one has them on the road to ruin, says Dan Falvey.

On 8 May the leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party resigned following a shock Conservative victory at the general election. Nick Clegg said that it had been “a huge privilege and unlimited honour” to serve as leader for the Liberal Democrats but that the party had suffered “catastrophic losses” and that they must “reflect on these in the time ahead”; meanwhile, Ed Miliband stepped down claiming that the Labour party “needs to have an open and honest debate about the right way forward”.

Both parties had done worse than expected at the polls and both now desperately needed to reorganise in order to move forward and start rebuilding so that they may once again be seen as electable come 2020.

However, this is where the similarities between the parties’ post-election woes end. The leadership elections that followed the resignations of the leaders have taken two very separate routes. While the Liberal Democrats have elected Tim Farron as their leader in a very private, respectful leadership contest that took just 10 weeks, Labour’s leadership election has been an incredibly public vicious battle that is set to drag on for a total of 18 weeks until a leader is finally elected in September.

Given the extent of Labour’s loss the acting leader of the party, Harriet Harman, claimed that the party’s leadership contest must take place in the public eye. She said: “We have to go back and ask local people from those areas [in which we lost] to be brutally honest about what they think of us and what they want from us”. As a result hustings were to be televised and take place in marginal seats so that all candidates could be properly scrutinised by the electorate.

In contrast to the Labour election, the Liberal Democrat leadership contest was much more low key. Instead of appealing to the wider public the party who were in government with the Conservatives before the election opted for a contest that was much more focused on their party members. Sal Brinton, the Liberal Democrat president, argued that the party had chosen for a swift election so that they can begin campaigning immediately. She stated: “We know we have some major elections to fight next year, the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly, the London assembly as well as a very large number of council seats.”

When it was announced last Thursday that Tim Farron was to be the new leader of the Liberal Democrats the mood from his party was one of excitement and eagerness. The party was ready to move forward under their new leader and do everything they could to re-engage with the electorate.

There was no divide in the party with supporters of the only other leadership candidate, Norman Lamb, equally anticipating with enthusiasm the challenge ahead. Lamb himself congratulated his rival on twitter claiming that Farron would be a “passionate leader of our party, championing social justice and leading from the front in our campaign to rebuild the liberal voice”.

The future of the Labour Party couldn’t look more different. Through their “open and honest debate” the factions within the party have become visible: The party is divided between Old Labour, New Labour, Blairites, Brownites and everything in between. The stark differences between the policies offered by leadership candidates Liz Kendal and veteran MP Jeremy Corbyn highlight the differences in beliefs of party members. In reality, Labour seems less like one untied political party and more like a coalition of MPs of opposing beliefs.

Ed Miliband was criticised by many for not being a strong leader but one thing he did do was hold a divided party together and make them work as a unit. In his absence, the invitation for MPs to express their opinions openly has caused the party to fall apart as Labour MPs begin to fight amongst themselves.

Chuka Umunna has accused some members of his party of “behaving like a petulant child who has been told you can't have the sweeties in the sweet shop” during the leadership election and Harriet Harman has seen MPs revolt against her decision for the party to abstain on a vote to changes to welfare benefits.

It is impossible to imagine how that party will be able to work together and MPs put their differences behind them post the election of a new leader, especially now that the range of opinions have been so widely circulated by the media.

With a new leader now elected and the whole party fully behind him, the Liberal Democrats looks like a party who are ready to fight the government over the next five years and make their voice heard so that they may once again become a relevant party within the political system. Labour however look nowhere near ready to fight for the hearts and votes of the British electorate.

We are only half way through their election battle and they are already starting to fall apart at the seams. For Labour the next five years represent not only a struggle for the support of the nation but a struggle for unity from their own MPs.

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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