Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
The greatest democratic exercise of all…a general election
Whatever one’s view about the Supreme Court’s decision, it is worth noting that twice in the past three weeks, the Prime Minister has called a parliamentary vote for a general election – the greatest democratic exercise of all – and which could resolve these issues once and for all.
I have voted for a general election twice in the past month, as I wish to hold myself to account to the people of Harlow. Both of these votes have been opposed in Parliament by Labour and the other opposition parties. Do they believe in democracy or not?
It seems extraordinary that, yet again, a long-standing, British company, founded 178 years ago, has crashed and burned because of the ineptitude and greed of the management. Figures published show that the senior directors carved up £47 million for their bonuses and wages over the past twelve years, all the while, the company’s assets were going from bad to worse.
Not only have hundreds of thousands of British holiday-makers had their holidays and lives ruined and disrupted, but spare a thought for the 21,000 Thomas Cook employees who, through no fault of their own, are suddenly out of their jobs.
Whilst the senior management will no doubt go back to their millionaire lifestyles, the ordinary employee will be at home without a salary and a risk to their pension.
This is all grist to the Corbyn, anti-capitalist mill. Conservatives must have an answer to the failure of incompetent management and corporate greed – especially when taxpayers’ money is involved. How about, rather than just the hard-pressed taxpayer having to pay for all the compensation, flights and insurance for Thomas Cook customers, why shouldn’t the company directors open their fat wallets and give some of their money back to the taxpayer?
It’s time that we looked at corporate laws and make sure that those responsible for the mess, are also responsible for clearing it up
We have an opportunity; let’s seize it
As Tom Watson has put it, this year’s Labour Party Conference has been like “a drive-by shooting”. Their civil war is out in the open for all to see. As happens with every hardline revolution, the revolutionaries eventually turn on each other, and “the revolution devours its own children”.
If this civil strife was not bad enough, the Opposition leadership has proposed a range of policies calculated to appeal to the few, rather than the many. Abolishing Ofsted, the four-day week – alongside billions of pounds of unfunded promises to be spent on anything and everything.
So, as Conservatives – even with the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the prorogation of Parliament – we have a real chance here to unify as a Party.
The truth is that around 80 to 90 percent of the Party are united behind the Brexit position and almost 100 percent of the Party is united behind policies to spend more on education, health and policing. We have a choice; either we can argue about leaving the EU, or we can set out policies on public services and social justice that really capture the public’s imagination.
Don’t be fooled by the polling data – complacency is the enemy
Despite our rise in the polls, many of the Corbyn messages on austerity still resonate. People are struggling with the cost of living. Nearly a million people are living in overcrowded accommodation. One in four have less than £95 in savings.
Complacency is the enemy.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been wonderful to see the rise of the Conservatives in the polls and Labour’s decline. At the time of writing, the latest YouGov polling data states that we are 11 points ahead of Labour.
But we’ve been here before. If we think back to the 2017 election, we had a confident lead in the run-up – at times, 20-points ahead of Labour – and we all know what happened then.
It’s also worth remembering that only until recently Labour were ahead of us in some polls. The Brexit Party remains strong, and could potentially take millions of Conservative votes. Meanwhile, Labour Party is significantly close in many target/marginal seats.
The worst thing that could happen is if we, Conservatives, think this election will be a walk in the park. It’s true that, if we get Brexit sorted on October 31st, things could be a lot better, but it will still be probably one of the toughest elections to fight.
Conservatism must also find an attack-line against Corbyn which isn’t about him being a “Marxist” – as I have written about before on ConservativeHome. Tories have to look for a narrative that provides a meaningful way to explain to ordinary folk the damage that a Corbyn-Government would do to both our economy and our public services.
Williamson: A real vocational education reformer
Could Gavin Williamson be one of the real reforming Education Secretaries and transform vocation and skills? Alongside Sajid Javid, he is one of the very few cabinet ministers to have gone to an FE college and has a real passion and understanding for skills and apprenticeships.
Whilst some have criticised the fact that there is no longer a dedicated Skills Minister, I see it quite differently; skills and apprenticeships will now receive significant attention, playing a major role in the Education Secretary’s brief and having a significant voice in the Cabinet, for the first time.
It was good to see that in his address to the Universities UK Conference two weeks ago, Williamson spoke so passionately and set out a vision for skills in our country. He encouraged “collaboration” between higher education institutions, schools and colleges to “drive this country forward” in terms of skills, and recognised that we must “boost further education and its links with industry and business”.
Furthermore, Boris Johnson has announced an extra £400 million for 16-19 education which should make a significant difference. It certainly helps that both the Chancellor and Education Secretary are passionate about FE and will ensure that the sector is well looked after.
Williamson seems to understand vocational education and the need to build up its prestige, in a way that many in top Government positions often don’t. I’m hopeful that we could see, under his stewardship, a very exciting future for apprenticeships and skills in our country.