Following the result of the EU referendum, and David Cameron’s resulting resignation, the political system has fallen into turmoil. This includes the Conservative Party. The leadership race has already brought surprises (notably Boris Johnson’s failure to run for the position, as well as Michael Gove’s shock personal bid). As it stands, prior to today’s vote which will eliminate one person from the race, there are five candidates. This piece should shine some light on what each person is about in terms of personality and, crucially, policy.
There is a lot of positivity published around Theresa May in terms of her approach to politics: ‘a safe pair of hands’, pragmatic, private and uninterested in being a member of the ‘boys-club’ of Westminster. A Guardian article from 2014, in fact, paints her as a no-nonsense woman, who is very serious about her job. This is a promising character reference, but what of the policies she supports?
Her main areas of policy, as current Home Secretary, are counter-terrorism, cyber security, and knife, gun and gang crime. What follows are summaries of her most recent activity in each category:
In 2012, she gave a statement to Parliament about Gary McKinnon, regarding her decision to withdraw his extradition order, owing to the fact that she believed it would contravene his human rights. In this same statement she mentions opting out of as many EU police and criminal justice measures as possible given the UK’s membership. She further expresses desire to reduce delays in the extradition process generally by working with the EU Court of Human Rights, who she says have caused “wholly unacceptable” delays in the process. She also mentions streamlining the appeal system in order to speed up the deportation of foreign nationals posing a threat to the country.
Meanwhile, in a 2014 review on gang injunctions, a measure brought in the year before she became Home Secretary, her findings are positive, merely suggesting the building of greater awareness amongst police forces to promote the policy. Gang injunctions can prevent or require gang members to do certain things eg. avoid a particular area, in order to curb a gang’s activities.
A report that she was involved in, regarding UK counter-terrorism strategy between 2010-2015, noted four areas of work: pursue, prevent, protect & prepare, although the number of contributors to the report mean that it is unfair to credit May with all initiatives. It is merely proof of her expertise in the area, being only one of two named MPs to contribute.
As recently as April this year, May introduced policy raising the salary required for non-EU migrants to apply for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK. There are some exceptions, but the new threshold of £35,000, designed to help reduce net migration and encourage firms to train UK workers, is estimated even by the government to only make ‘modest’ gains.
Michael Gove, meanwhile, receives a less favourable dissection of his character, from MP Ben Wallace, also a Conservative. Wallace accuses Gove not only of frequent drinking, but also of a propensity to ‘gossip’ – that is, leak government policy and personnel details to the press. By contrast, James Delingpole paints him as a productive, loyal and wronged Game of Thrones fan. The two descriptions do not add up; possibly the difference is that Delingpole describes Gove as a friend, while Wallace does not.
Currently holding the post of Secretary of State for Justice, since May 2015, Gove’s primary policy areas today include the family justice system, sentencing reform and young offenders. However, given that his longest-held position in recent history is as Secretary of State for Education, between 2010 and 2014, perhaps this is the area where he can be considered to have the most expertise and experience, and thus these are the policies he should be judged on. Here, he dealt with things such as school and college funding and accountability, children’s health, behaviour, attendance and curriculum, amongst others.
Within this, one of Gove’s key legacy points is the introduction and rushed passing of the 2010 Academies Act. This Act allowed more schools to become academies: still government funded, they are controlled day to day by headteachers and overseen by charitable ‘academy trusts’, which can run chains of academies. Academies can opt out of the national curriculum and control the length of school days and terms.Teaching unions have criticised the scheme as being a way of privatising education, as private providers do now run large chains of academies, sometimes more than they can reasonably cope with.There are also concerns about creation of inequality – particularly surrounding SEN pupils and control over admissions – as well as religious segregation and the disenfranchisement of local authorities regarding education.
In Gove’s reforms to GCSEs and A-Levels, outlined in a written statement to Parliament in 2014, the focus is on increasing the ‘rigour’ of exams to “address the pernicious damage caused by grade inflation and dumbing down”. There also uniformly seems to be a desire to increase the breadth of knowledge: for example, covering greater time periods in History. Towards the end of the statement, Gove further notes:
“All our reforms to GCSEs and A levels complement the changes we have already made to technical and vocational qualifications, removing those which are not endorsed by businesses or employer bodies from league tables, and leaving only those which represent real achievement.”
Whatever one makes of Gove’s changes, it is clear that he considers certain areas or qualifications of less value than others, and that this is at least in part measured by the ‘rigorousness’ of the area’s exams and the amount of value placed on them by business. It is notable, also, that subjects such as art & design and drama are only mentioned fleetingly.
A Remain campaigner, Stephen Crabb has recently been denying allegations that he believes homosexuality needs to be cured. However he did vote against same-sex marriage legislation, and against a 2007 Equality Act (Sexual Orientation), to protect LGBT persons from discrimination. An MP since 2005, he was re-elected to his Preseli Pembrokeshire seat in 2010 and 2015.
In March this year, Crabb was given the position of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. However, up until this point, he had been Secretary of State for Wales since 2014. Although gov.uk provides little evidence of specific policies in which Crabb has been involved, it should be noted that he has experience in the International Development and Treasury Select Committees as well as the positions listed above.
Nonetheless, his own website provides some details about the kind of issues that Crabb supports. As well as actively campaigning to save Withybush Hospital, he supports Conservative-led increases to state pensions and the maintenance of fuel payments and free TV licenses for the elderly. In terms of jobs and the economy, he is an advocate for high-speed broadband and improved travel links in order to boost business. On immigration, he believes that the Human Rights Act needs altering to prevent illegal immigrants abusing it, supports benefit cuts for immigrants, and thinks immigration should be limited to ‘genuine cases’ and workers with vital skills.
Leadsom is variously described as ‘hostile’ towards Europe, reminiscent of a young Margaret Thatcher, unremarkable, and false: a not entirely positive assessment.
First elected as an MP in 2010, she has served as part of the Treasury Select Committee, held the position of Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and, since May 2015, has been Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. In this role, she deals with the energy industry, radioactive and nuclear substances and waste, and UK energy security. As part of this, she was involved in the 2015/16 Energy Bill. This bill was in part designed to aid development of North Sea oil and gas industries. This included setting up an independent regulatory body, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), and transferring many of the regulatory powers of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to this body. It also ended public subsidies for onshore wind farms.
In June 2015, in a speech delivered to the Nuclear Industry Association, Leadsom declared herself an advocate for nuclear power, noting it to be cheaper than other low-carbon energy production methods, and thus a positive for both consumers and the environment. She outlined plans for nuclear expansion, estimating that by 2030 she would like nuclear power to contribute to 35% of the nation’s energy demands, compared to the current 20%.
Leadsom is pro-Brexit.
One commentator dubs Fox ‘the darling of the Tory right’, and yet also doubts his suitability for the leadership role at all, given the reasons for his 2011 resignation from his position as Secretary of State for Defence. Shortly prior to this forced resignation, it was discovered that Fox allowed close personal friend Adam Werrity to take on an unofficial advisory role: so unofficial that despite attending MoD meetings and meetings with foreign dignitaries with Fox, Werrity had no security clearance. This was, of course, a huge security risk, and thus unacceptable. In fact, appointed in 2010, Fox only survived a year in the cabinet, although he is still an MP.
His priorities as an MP reportedly include: Clevedon Community Hospital, sustainable housing, preventing pylons marring the North Somerset landscape, and blocking the Severn barrage project on the grounds of projected disastrous environmental damage.