The natural response for Brandon Lewis to make, in the wake of the disruption of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s university meeting at Bristol, is to promise more Conservative MPs on campuses. And the Party Chairman has duly pledged that “we will be stepping up our speaker programme”. He must show that the Party and Tory MPs will not be intimidated.
But what is that programme? Rees-Mogg is neither a Minister nor a Party Vice-Chair. The meeting he addressed wasn’t hosted by student Conservatives, but by the University of West England’s Politics and International Relations Society. Indeed, there is neither a Tory student organistion nor a replacement for Conservative Future. The Somerset MP will have been invited directly by the society. The visit will have had nothing much to do with CCHQ.
Elsewhere, Sam Gyimah, the Universities Minister, is to tour colleges to speak to students and listen to what they say: “politics should be a dialogue, not a monologue, so I’m looking forward to discussing tuition fees, safe-spaces, access to higher education and our potential post-Brexit, among many other topics, in a robust and honest fashion,” he wrote recently.
This is an excellent initiative. But “stepping up our speaker programme” requires more. As we have written before, the Party needs to utilise MPs and others who can make the broad case for conservatism on campuses. This requires more than a touch of full spectrum vision, which not every senior Tory has. Those we have listed previously include Michael Gove, Oliver Letwin, Jesse Norman and David Willetts, who will be writing on ConservativeHome later this week about university funding and tuition fees.
We also named Nick Boles. The former Skills Minister is publishing a new book, Square Deal, bit by bit. His ideas on housing are finding an echo in government. Unlike Gove and Norman, he isn’t a Minister. Unlike Willetts, he is an MP. And unlike Letwin, he has not served in Cabinet and, all other things being equal, could reasonably expect to do so at some point.
There is interest in Downing Street in utilising the Grantham and Stamford MP. He isn’t as senior as Keith Joseph was when the latter promoted free market ideas to students 40 years ago. Nor is he as well known as the star of our Moggcast. However, he is independent-minded and can make waves. As for the attempt to silence Rees-Mogg, it was obviously contemptible. But the gambit was scarcely new. He will keep going, and other Conservative MPs should too.