What is the next step for the Conservative Party post-Brexit?
It is widely believed that ‘post Brexit’, by which most people mean after 29 March 2019, UK politics may return to some sort of normality. Unfortunately it seems that it is becoming clearer by the day that this is unlikely to be the case and we are going to spend at least the next few years debating what our long term relationship with the EU, and its member states, will be. I strongly suspect that any relationship will not be static and will evolve over many years.
The challenge for UK politics, and the Conservative Government, will therefore be in ensuring that we don’t only talk about that relationship in the years to come. There are many urgent issues which need Government attention – funding and planning social care for our growing elderly population, enabling UK businesses and employees to be as productive as possible so our economy grows faster, addressing the growth of far-right extremism, dealing with cybercrime and potential cyber warfare.
But the real challenge underlying many of these is to ensure we have the skilled population to work on and deliver answers to these challenges. We need a long term Conservative vision for people in this country and an answer to how we intend to enable people to meet and exceed the aspirations they have for themselves and their families.
When I sat down with the 1828 Journal’s team earlier in the year we agreed that the Conservative Party is not an ideological party but a pragmatic one with a set of core underlying values. One of these values must surely be a belief in wanting everyone to be able to make the most of their talents, regardless of their background.
High standards of education – from pre-school and early years right through to advance apprenticeships and university degrees are key to this. But there is something else which we need to rev up too, and that is an appetite and encouragement for lifelong learning.
In the 21st century it won’t be enough to say that our education is finished at the age of 18 or in our early 20s after university. The fast pace of change in our workplaces and the widespread use of technology everywhere means that we will all need to keep our skills and confidence in using the new technology up to date, or we will be completely outpaced by other countries.
The Conservative Party since 2010 has a strong track record on tackling educational under achievement. There are more pupils in schools rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding than there were in 2010 and the percentage of such schools has increased from 69% to 86%. But that means there are still parts of the country where children are not being given the best start in life by their schools. The Conservative Government needs to ruthlessly focus on those schools and put in the necessary support and challenge to improve the life chances of the pupils in them.
In the 2017 Budget the Chancellor announced plans for a National Retraining Scheme. What has happened since? Where is the excitement and the links being built between such a scheme and the Government’s National Industrial Strategy? When the Government wants to get us excited about the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence and big data how do we help those who might lose out from such changes to be supported to learn the skills which will mean they have a brighter future in the modern workplace rather than a shortened one.
We are told that the fourth industrial revolution means that many people will lose jobs to robots. So far, in the previous industrial revolutions although it initially seemed to be the case that people would lose out to machines the worries turned out to be overdone.
There are some jobs that robots just can’t do – jobs that need traits such as empathy, teamwork and collaboration. Jobs and sectors which are often female dominated. How do we build up those sectors to be more highly valued? And how do we ensure that all young people develop those traits which will set them up for success.
I’ve previously written in my book ‘Taught not Caught: Educating for 21st century Character’ about how many schools are now actively developing these character traits and strong values in their pupils. I believe that many more can and should be doing the same. Robots are unlikely to be creative and confident social beings with a strong sense of self-belief. But today’s pupils can be tomorrow’s workers with those traits.
The unfinished business of 2016 is addressing why people voted for major change in the UK in voting for Brexit. I’ve never believed that support for Brexit was solely about leaving the EU. For many Leave voters I’ve spoken to it was a call to alert people in Westminster to the fact that the way the UK was being run wasn’t working for them. Investing in our people, building their skills and confidence and valuing the character traits which will set us apart from technology and other countries would be a good way to start to demonstrate that the Conservatives heard them and have a post March 2019 plan to address this.
The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP has been Member of Parliament for Loughborough since 2010. In this time she has served in several ministerial roles including Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Minister for Women, Minister for Women and Equalities and Secretary of State for Education. Currently she is the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.