Theresa May – We’ve listened on student fees
The Prime Minister marked the start of the Conservative party conference (and her 61st birthday) with a customary appearance on the Andrew Marr Show. First on the agenda was the announcement of a change in the government’s policy on university tuition fees. May stated that she wanted to raise the threshold at which students start to pay back their loans, and that she intended to scrap a planned increase in level of fees to a maximum of £9,250 a year. Marr accused the Prime Minister of presiding over a screeching U-turn:
AM: The policy that you stoutly defended for years, which ended up with £9,000 a year fees for students, did that work? Was it a failure as a policy?
TM: What that policy has done is meant that there is money for universities… What the policy has done is meant that there are more students going to university. But when we set that policy, what we expected was going to happen was there would be a range, a diversity in the system, that we’d perhaps see universities offering shorter courses, that we’d see universities offering courses at fees under the maximum fee. That hasn’t happened. We’ve got to look at it again…
AM: Out there, there’s lots and lots of people who’ve left university who now have debts of £50,800 on their shoulders. How much of that debt is going to be affected by your change in policy?
TM: … We’re making two changes which will be effective in terms of graduates. For one, we’re raising the threshold for someone who went to University in Autumn 2012 – they will be affected. For those who are able to have the full benefit of raising the threshold from 21,000 to £25,000, this means graduates having more money in their pockets.
AM: How much more money?
TM: It’ll be £30 a month.
AM: So a relatively small amount of money?
TM: It’s £360 a year, but it is a change and it gives them some more money in their pockets.
AM: To students who are watching, that sounds – compared to the banquet that Jeremy Corbyn is offering – that sounds like a bit of a dry biscuit.
TM: The point about the banquet Jeremy Corbyn claimed to be able to offer is that he can’t deliver on it. You can only do this if you have a balanced approach to the economy, which is what we have. What would Jeremy Corbyn do? He’d wreck the economy.
The Prime Minister rejected funding the universities system through general taxation, saying ‘What I believe is that people who go to university, who benefit from that university education in a very personal sense, yes they make contributions to society, but so actually do the people who don’t go to university and who are paying their taxes… If you earn more as a result of going to university, I think it’s right that you make a contribution’.
Is Boris unsackable?
Marr then decided to raise the spectre of the Foreign Secretary, who many suspect is on manoeuvres. Boris Johnson foreshadowed the Prime Minister’s Florence speech with a now notorious 4,000 word essay the week earlier, and told the Sun on Saturday that there must be ‘no monkeying around’ over Brexit. Marr challenged May as to how long this could continue:
AM: Can we acknowledge you have a problem of authority in your cabinet?
TM: What I have is a cabinet that are united –
AM: They are not.
TM: …United in the mission of this government… United in a mission to build a country that works for everyone and agreed on the approach we take in Florence… I had a cabinet meeting before my Florence speech. Everybody agreed that the position that the United Kingdom was taking was absolutely the right one. We’re going forward on that basis.
AM: This is a cabinet that is not agreeing on very fundamental questions about Brexit. We have seen Boris Johnson publicly demanding more red lines, saying publicly the Prime Minister must now do this, this, and by the way, on public sector pay she must do this. How can you tolerate somebody behaving like that in your cabinet?
TM: Boris is absolutely behind the Florence speech and the line that we have taken. What Boris is saying is that the importance of the approach we’ve taken in the Florence speech…
AM: Is he unsackable?
TM: Let’s be very clear about what we have here in this government. We have a government that is determined to build a country that works for everyone. And you know what? You talk about Boris’ job, you talk about my job – I think the people watching this programme are actually interested in what we’re going to do for their jobs and their futures and their children’s futures.
Elsewhere in the interview, May apologised for the disastrous Conservative election campaign, saying: ‘I called the election, I led the campaign, I take my responsibility and I’m sorry that some very good members of parliament lost their seats’ and added that ‘We’ve listened to what people said in the general election’ when queried on her new spending commitments.
Michael Heseltine – ‘In any normal situation, Boris would be sacked’
Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine made a return to the Sunday Politics. As a veteran of the Thatcher government, Sarah Smith asked if Heseltine thought there were any parallels between himself and the current Foreign Secretary. Heseltine replied that is only the unique nature of the times we find ourselves in that allows the Foreign Secretary his chance to breathe:
— Daily&SundayPolitics (@daily_politics) October 1, 2017
MH: I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be in Boris’s position… Boris is using his position within the cabinet in order to cause the difficulties that he is. It is a totally different situation [to me and Margaret Thatcher], and in any normal situation he would be sacked. Probably that’s the right thing to do now, but… the Prime Minister’s weaknesses is such that she is between the devil and the deep blue sea. If she keeps him inside, he will continue to disrupt. If she puts him outside, he will disrupt.
SS: And the more he misbehaves, she doesn’t sack him and people say ‘He’s unsackable and that shows how weak her authority is’, that weakens her further. Should she just bite the bullet, get him out of the cabinet, to prove that she’s got the authority to do that much?
MH: I think that probably is the right… Either way it is a difficult decision for her, I understand that. But it’s very rough on the rest of her colleagues. He can get away with it – expressing a view – but they can’t. That’s not a position that is tenable. One of the key things which will dominate this conference and the immediate future is the question of a united cabinet, a united party, and there isn’t any unity. That’s the problem… The truth is that underlying it all is Brexit and Brexit is the most divisive issue of our time, which splits families, splits parties, splits the government, splits the cabinet and the truth is, splits the Prime Minister herself, who said something quite different in the referendum campaign to what she’s saying now.
When Smith asked him about Theresa May’s chances of leading the Conservative party into the next general election, Heseltine responded ‘I don’t think there is any prospect of that’. When queried on tuition fees, he replied that ‘The Labour party will simply outbid us. That’s not the issue. The issue is what is the vision?’ and added that ‘There is a very serious risk that Jeremy Corbyn will be in Downing Street within the next couple of years’.
Sajid Javid – ‘I had a date with my wife and I didn’t want to be late’
If Theresa May is worried about Boris Johnson mounting a leadership bid against her, perhaps she can take comfort from one potential misunderstanding after Sky’s Niall Paterson interviewed Sajid Javid. The Communities and Local Government Secretary had a rather novel excuse for how he came across in an interview in this week’s Observer. Needless to say, he had been asked about the Prime Minister’s future prospects:
— Sunday with Paterson (@RidgeOnSunday) October 1, 2017
NP: Should Theresa May lead the Conservatives into the next election as she said that she wants to?
SJ: Yes, that’s what she wants to do, she should. And she would have my backing.
NP: Why on earth then, when the Observer asked you the same question, did they manage to write the about you? They asked the same question – ‘He waits several seconds, smiles, then stands and offers his hand. “I think we’re out of time” he says, leading us to draw the obvious conclusion’. When you’re asked a straightforward question like that, wouldn’t it have been better just to…
SJ: They make it sound a lot more dramatic than it actually was. That’s an interview that was overrunning, and I had a date with my wife and I didn’t want to be late. It’s as simple as that. But you’ve actually taken the opportunity to ask me the question again and I’m glad you did, because this is an important issue. Right now, Theresa May is leading this country, she’s providing leadership on so many issues… If she wants to continue to run the party and then to ask for the leadership of the country again in another election, she will have my support and I think she will have the support of almost every minister and cabinet minister out there.
However, Javid signalled that he would expect to see at least some change in the next Conservative campaign: ‘I think it is important that we have good teamwork when it comes to setting a manifesto. I think that is one of the lessons from the recent election.’
Andy Burnham – The Tories must tackles homelessness
And with this week’s Conservative party conference taking place in Manchester, the mayor of the region used the opportunity to urge the government to tackle the rise in homelessness that people were seeing on the city’s streets.
— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) October 1, 2017
AB: I’ve promised to end rough sleeping [in Greater Manchester] and I’m working very much on that…
RP: Have you got the powers to do that?
AB: The mayor obviously has got direct power, but you’ve got the ability to bring people together around a common agenda, and I can tell you Robert, people in Greater Manchester do not like walking past the people huddled in doorways… They want something done, and I hope the Tory party this week sees what’s happening around us and actually gets more focused on those issues.
He claimed that Theresa May was ‘ clearly responding to Jeremy [Corbyn]’s agenda and that ‘the north is getting stronger, it’s getting organized’ but he said that ‘I do worry about a London-centric Brexit, that will protect the City of London at all costs but leave our industries to pay the cost’.