Skip to main content

The Conservative Party Conference 2018: Mono culture it seems.

As the sitting Government, the Conservative party held their annual conference this week.  The cost for me to attend was too steep as were the hotels in Birmingham.  I noted that even for members it would have been £100s for a full member pass. The conference www site has been taken down and the Conservative HQs in both London and Edinburgh were unable to confirm the costs today. I attended the Labour Conference for £65 for a full pass – albeit one for a retired person (ordinary member passes were £110).
The Conservatives were exercised with Brexit and this dominated the event in the press.  Dancing Queen, Theresa May (Independent School and Oxford Graduate) did her best to rally everyone around the camp fire whilst a full blown bush fire raged around her [1]. The incongruous sight of her dancing on stage took a while to sink in as the cringing subsided. She used the words of Robert Binyon from ‘For the Fallen’ written in 1914, when the horrors of war in Europe were first sinking in back then. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”. The irony of this inappropriate reference in the midst of escalating political conflict with the EU over Brexit seemed to elude her. The UK stood by and defended democracy in Europe more than once and at terrible cost. We cannot and should not just walk away. She failed to add, “They went with songs to the battle, they were young….. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.”
Paraphrasing the Labour slogan she called on “A party not for the few, not even for the many, but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best”. Not a party for all then. A qualified statement that must alienate those crushed by the terrible austerity and are still trying in vain.
Boris Johnson (Eton and Oxford Graduate) was the main comic turn at a fringe meeting [2]. After a ‘Benny Hill’ style run in a field, he rolled into Birmingham to a packed hall at the same time that the unfortunate Sajid Javid (Comprehensive School and Exeter Economics and Politics graduate), dubbed #uselessKhan by the incorrigible Johnson, was addressing a half empty main hall.  To senior Conservative figures in the front row Boris challenged, “If we cheat the electorate — and Chequers is a cheat — we will escalate the sense of mistrust. Can it be escalated further? It seems he is, making a fine effort himself.
Education in the wings.
Education Secretary, Damian Hinds (Grammar School and Oxford PPE graduate) followed his opposite number in Labour with his speech on Education [3].  Like her, he shied away from universities and fees. It seems that there is no real forward plan as they wait for the now delayed Augar review to emerge. Also the ONS review of loans, timed for later this year that will no doubt upset the apple cart. His choice of reference to the past was not Abba or stirring poetry but Disraeli “It was the first One Nation Conservative, the original, Benjamin Disraeli who said "Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends". He also boasted that, “And the gap has been narrowed. The gap between the rich and the poor in attainment has narrowed at every stage and every phase from nursery school to university entry.”  This seemed hard to grasp as a representation of reality.
Higher Educations on the fringes.
The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah (Academy School and Oxford PPE graduate) popped up at several fringe meetings but on funding he remained reticent. ‘Waiting for Augar’ seems to be the only plan. To quote ‘Waiting for Godot’, “There’s man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.” Then there is the smoke from battleship HMS ‘ONS Review’ now visible on the horizon.
The Education Policy Institute hosted a meeting on ‘What do we need from universities?’ chaired by Natalie Perera (Education Policy Institute Director of a Multi-Academy Trust). The balanced views were provided in the blue corner by David Willetts (Independent School and Oxford PPE graduate) Professor Sir Chris Husbands (Former Grammar School, Sixth form College and Cambridge graduate) and Rachel Wolf (Former education adviser to the Prime Minister and Cambridge graduate). In the red corner was the redoubtable NUS president Shakira Martin (Lewisham and Southwark College) who deliberately did not bring her towel to throw in. 
The Higher Education Policy Institute, with that partner University Partnerships Programme (a private provider of on-campus residential and academic accommodation infrastructure), hosted a roundtable. HEPI Director Nick Hillman (Cambridge graduate and former advisor to David Willetts) was joined by Neil Carmichael, former Chair of the Education Select Committee and Professor Robert Allison (Kings College London graduate and Vice-Chancellor at Loughborough University).
Representative of everyone who is willing to work hard?
The conference could hardly claim to offer much that was representative of ordinary people. Although the Labour Party conference (see TEFS September 28, 2018 last week [4]) showed that its perspective was skewed in some places, it made genuine efforts to address the pressing needs of a society that is slipping fast. The Conservative party perspective is almost skewed to total social blindness. The two cultures divide seems to be well embedded with the Conservative leadership and its blinkered  monoculture perspective is approaching a critical stage as technology advances. It is hard to see how solutions to economic challenges in a technical world, social problems and social mobility could emerge from its ranks.
Owen Jones of the Guardian has produced a quirky video [5] of the conference that seems to catch the mood overall.

Mike Larkin, retired from Queen's University Belfast after 37 years teaching Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics.


[2] 'Daggers drawn': what the papers say about Boris Johnson's speech. Guardian Wed 3 Oct 2018
 Video at:

[3] Times Education Supplement. Damian Hinds' Conservative conference speech in full

[4] TEFS September 28th 2018 Labour Party Conference 2018: National Education Service and a tale of Two Cultures

[5] Owen Jones Owen Jones: my search for life at the Tory conference – video


Popular posts from this blog

Bristol University student death: Inquest raises many concerns

The inquest into the tragic death of Bristol University Student, Ben Murray, took place this week; almost 12 months since he took his own life.* The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide earlier today but warned the University that it should make detailed inquiries after each death (BBC News ‘University of Bristol told to learn lessons after Ben Murray's suicide’ ). The anniversary of his death is this Sunday the 5th of May. Spring comes as a time of hope for most people but for others it can be a time of considerable anxiety and stress. This is especially the case for students approaching the examination period. As a close colleague of mine often pointed out, “they are all someone’s child”. Our hearts go out to the family of Ben Murray and friends as the inquest goes over again the events of a year ago. The pain is further exacerbated by media reports that he had little or no support in what was his first year at university. The BBC reported that ‘Bristol University studen

A radical overhaul of examinations is needed as soon as possible: UPDATE

UPDATE 23rd March 2021 Since this idea was posted in January, there has been considerable thought across the sector about what would be best for the future. These are very well laid out in a collection of short essays reported last week by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). The twelve essays, from different authors and different perspectives, in  ‘Where next for university admissions? ’ are edited by Rachel Hewitt  who sets out the many pitfalls surrounding examinations and university admissions. It seems there are those in favour of post qualification admission (PQA) to university as it should help the least advantaged students. However, arguments against this are presented that means caution must be taken. A powerful response to the HEPI report by the  'The Fair Access Coalition: 10 requirements for a fair admissions process' adds further to the debate. The suggestions are sensible but falls short on demanding adequate resources for students throughout their studi

Higher Education and the ‘intelligent plumbers’ theory

A common tactic when found out is to divert attention elsewhere. The release of student data from 2018/19 by the Department for Education (DfE) yesterday, ‘Widening participation in higher education: 2020’ and ‘Statistics: further education and skills’ tells the same sorry tale of a wide gap in access to universities between the most and least advantaged students. To divert attention from these stark facts in advance, the government used a diversionary tactic by attacking the effectiveness of universities and thus pointing the blame for poor social mobility someplace else. Advocating improvements in further education, something cut back by the same regime for years, hides the real intention. It seems that class divisions will be further exacerbated and any concession to universities fuelling improved social mobility has been abandoned. But the flawed theory is that at least the elite rulers will get access to intelligent plumbers . Three years ago, I heard a leading ‘You