Our team of HE wonks have been live-blogging since the election results came in on Thursday night. Editor Mark Leach is now following the aftermath as a new government is formed.
A new government takes shape
End of the live blog
It’s been a fascinating few days, but it’s time to close this live blog. The analysis and commentary doesn’t stop though, plenty more will follow on our main blogs page soon. Thanks to all our contributors and everyone for reading since Thursday night. See you in 2020.
Tuesday morning political update
BIS have confirmed to us that they believe new Universities & Science Minister Jo Johnson will not be attending cabinet – we’re double checking with No.10, but his name has been removed from the wider list of people in and attending Cabinet, so it doesn’t look likely at this stage. This means one fewer HE seat around the Cabinet table for this government than the last (before we had Secretary of State a member and Minister attending there).
Shadow BIS Secretary Chuka Umunna has announced he is standing for the leadership of the Labour Party. This was widely expected. He’s has responsibility for HE and science for some time now in opposition, which in some ways is good news for the sector – if he wins then he won’t be a complete stranger as he’s done his tour of duty in universities and the shiny labs and other science toys. He’s also a veteran of the £6k fees episode and is unlikely to want to repeat mistakes made over that policy.
Norman Lamb is standing for leader of the Liberal Democrats. Close to Clegg, he’s seen to be on the right of the party and voted for tuition fees. Although he’s learnt his lesson calling the fees policy a ‘debacle’ never to be repeated.
In different ways, today’s two potential leaders of political parties to announce their candidacy have had their fingers burnt by tuition fees. The policy that gives so little but takes so much. Still nothing to do with how universities should be funded, or what students should pay. Pure kryptonite. Never a great place to be for a sector….
Recap: the new ministerial team
The Rt Hon Sajid Javid is the new Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills (and President of the Board of Trade). Javid comes from a working-class family and after a career in international banking, decided to join politics in 2009. He’s been close to George Osborne and David Cameron ever since, with a rapid rise through the ranks – from positions in the Treasury, to Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the last parliament. A key ally of Osborne in particular, he’s already talked about a possible future leader of the Conservatives. The City and business are so far pleased with the appointment – Vince Cable never endeared himself to the bankers. The HE sector is for now pleased that they have a Secretary of State on ‘their side’ of the argument i.e. that of George Osborne’s, which sees universities and science as key to growth. However Javid has made eurosceptic noises in the past which might be a cause for concern – but he is likely to come under intense pressure from business, skills, science, HE and everyone else he represents, to join the campaign to stay in the EU when the referendum kicks off. As I write about earlier on in this live blog, he once had a real battle with the National Union of Students – and lost – but that was a long time ago and we don’t know what he thinks about such things today.
Jo Johnson is the new Minister of State for Universities & Science. It had been indicated that he would attend Cabinet, but it now appears that unlike his predecessors, he will not be having a seat around the table, at least for the time being. This reduces HE and science’s Cabinet representation a bit, as in the last Parliament both the HE Minister and Secretary of State spoke for the sector at Cabinet meetings. Johnson is the younger brother to the famous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who held the HE brief when the Conservatives were in opposition around 2005. Jo Johnson has a very different style to his brother, he’s one of the top policy wonks in the government, and before this job, was heading up the No.10 Policy Unit. He’s a Europhile, and has openly called for students to be removed from the net migration target. Like his boss at BIS, Johnson is is thought to be on the same side of the argument as the sector on these matters, like David Willetts before him. Fearing a hardliner appointment in a majority administration, the sector is breathing a sigh of relief as although he may not yet know much about science or HE, he’s exceptionally clever and will not have any trouble with getting to grips with the issues. Vice chancellors are not only pleased that he appears to agree with them on Europe and immigration, but are delighted to have a minister so close to Cameron and Osborne as they can be sure not to be forgotten about.
Ultimately both Johnson and Javid are agents of HM Treasury and George Osborne. This is both a good and a bad thing from the sector’s perspective. On the one hand, they are part of what should be prevailing orthodoxy in this government, that the future is at least partly built on human capital and that universities and science are central to securing growth. This is tempered by elements represented by Theresa May, who comes from somewhere else entirely – this was a battle in the last parliament and it’s likely to continue in this one. For the sector, it’s important to have strong characters on the right side of this argument and close to HMT and No.10. But on the other hand, a brutal period of cuts is coming and the spending review will see blood on the streets of Whitehall. And despite Osborne’s commitments, the choices will be so tough that the relatively wealthy universities and science sectors start to look vulnerable, despite good intentions and the right political impulses. So what remains to be seen is whether Sajid Javid and Jo Johnson will be in BIS to carry out their master’s will when the time comes, or will they dig a trench with HE and science and do their bit to resist the axe?
There were some concerns that Jo Johnson wouldn’t attend cabinet, reducing the HE voice around the table to just the Secretary of State. But it appears tonight that he will be, according to the official list of ministers and so universities & science will have about the same representation they had in this government as they did in the last.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s father Stanley has made an unhelpful intervention on the radio:
Stanley Johnson tells @IainDale new science minister Jo Johnson “doesn’t know anything about science”
— Alex Wickham (@WikiGuido) May 11, 2015
Reaction to Jo Johnson
Jo Johnson is the new universities and science minister – Emran Mian has set the challenge for the sector:
Just waiting to see how long it takes HE sector to find downside of getting very impressive & well connected Jo Johnson as HE Minister …
— Emran Mian (@emranmian) May 11, 2015
But as we pointed out below, Johnson is in favour of removing students from the net migration target. He may also not hate Europe as much as some of his parliamentary colleagues. This is music to the sector’s ears who feared a hardliner taking on the brief.
William Cullerne Bown points to Johnson’s wonk status – a former head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, he is certainly very wonkish and could be seen to follow in the footstep of former wonky HE ministers:
Basically this confirms Jo Johnson as the Conservative uber-wonk. A David Willetts / Oliver Letwin cyborg to slay academia’s clone army
— William CullerneBown (@WilliamCB) May 11, 2015
David Kernohan points to this amusing quote, attributed to an Oxford contemporary of Johnson and repeated by the man himself during his maiden speech:
“He could not be more different than Boris, it is as if the humour gene bypassed Jo entirely and he inherited only the ambition gene”
— David Kernohan (@dkernohan) May 11, 2015
Those expecting the fun and larks of a Boris Johnson might be disappointed…
Very high praise from Jonathan Simons:
Jo Johnson to HE and science is exactly the kind of ambitious bold smart appointment that sectors dream of in their Ministers
— Jonathan Simons (@PXEducation) May 11, 2015
Jo Johnson – new Universities & Science Minister
Jo Johnson takes the Universities & Science brief. A big promotion from his previous role in policy at No.10. He follows in the footsteps of his brother Boris who held the shadow HE brief for a time during the last Conservative opposition.
Some facts about the younger Johnson:
– Educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford (Modern History).
– Member of the infamous Bullingdon Club like his brother.
– Speaks French
– Worked as a banker and then FT journalist before being elected to Parliament for Orpington in 2010
He’s not a eurosceptic and certainly not on the right of the party. Said to be close to Cameron and Osborne, the HE sector will likely be pleased to have a champion close to the action of this government. Johnson’s new boss Sajid Javid is likely to be more eurosceptic, but given their collective briefs covering HE and business, I would expect them to be part of the campaign to stay in the EU during the referendum.
Johnson is in favour of taking students out of the net migration target – he wrote this piece in the FT on the issue. Helen Warrell of the FT makes the point:
Worth noting that Jo Johnson, new unis minister, is pro students being excluded from net migration target. How will that go down with T May?
— Helen Warrell (@helenwarrell) May 11, 2015
At least the sector can be assured that on this point, their HE Minister like the previous two, are on their side of this battle (and it is a real battle).
The Labour Party have done a limited reshuffle of their front-bench team, in light of their personnel losses. It should be seen as a holding team until a new leader is elected, who will no doubt make changes again. However:
– Chuka Umunna is staying put shadowing the BIS brief.
– It’s unclear if Liam Byrne will stay on with universities & science, but it is highly likely that he will for now, as there probably won’t be a wholesale reshuffle of these posts until the party has regrouped a bit and elected a new leader.
– Shabana Mahmood – formerly of the universities & science brief is now Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The reshuffle announcement in full here.
Greg Clark not returning to HE
Former HE Minister Greg Clark has been given the job of Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government – a big promotion from a sub-cabinet job to running a major department like DCLG. Although in his previous role as Cities Minister, he was seen as quite a guru on local government and devolution – something he has been rewarded for today.
This means that we will have a new Minister for HE and possibly another one for science, depending on how the brief is split up. We’ll know who it is today or tomorrow at the latest.
Back in September when he was still new to the brief, I caught Clark admitting that he wasn’t really interested in universities, so the sector will be hoping that it gets someone a bit more engaged.
Given the lack of movement in general across this reshuffle, HE is actually one of the few sectors that will be dealing with an entirely new ministerial team as this parliament begins.
Sajid Javid’s NUS wars
There’s an interesting line in the Conservative Home bio of new Business Secretary Sajid Javid. It relates to his time at the University of Exeter with his friends and their views about NUS and students’ unions – particularly Robert Halfon who is now an MP and appointed to the new Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio:
At Exeter, he got to know not only Montgomerie, but two other future Conservative MPs, Robert Halfon and David Burrowes: a quartet who have remained friends. At the Bournemouth conference, they turned up at seven in the morning in order to get seats in the front row for what turned out to be Thatcher’s last conference speech, and chanted slogans such as “Ten more years” in support of her.
Halfon has recalled how they took control of the university Conservative Association and turned it from a group of “old-style patrician Tories into a real political organisation, fighting the National Union of Students”.
Last night, Halfon rang me and conjured the sheer exhilaration of that time: “We just turned it into a kind of guerrilla fighting force. We took the NUS to the European Court of Human Rights.”
It turns out that this is indeed the case – Javid was unhappy with the then Conservative government’s stance towards NUS and students’ unions, and together with Robert Halfon tried to take some action about it at the European Court of Human Rights – action that was unsuccessful. Here’s an extract from official NUS historian Mike Day’s history of the student movement:
Kenneth Baker’s review of student unions in the 80’s, had, as far as NUS was concerned given the student movement a clean bill of health. Opponents of NUS thought differently and persisted in claims that student unions misused public funds. In 1989 Tim Janman tried to introduce an amendment to the Education Reform Bill, he was persuaded to drop the amendment in return for assurances that the issue would be looked at again. In November 1990, Alan Howarth, the Minister for Higher Education, announced that he would;
“…..shortly embark on consultations with representatives of the higher education institutions and various student bodies on the operation of the 1986 legislation on freedom of speech in higher and further education institutions; on the pattern of membership and financing of local student unions, and the NUS; and on the proper use of public funds by local student unions and the NUS….
A new review was on the cards, and consultations began the following February. Various groups were invited to submit their views. The Conservative Collegiate Forum was the only student political group that received the invitation. NUS welcomed the review and saw it as an opportunity to get across the role that student unions played. There was a realisation however that NUS needed to reform its structures to ensure that it could count on the wholehearted support of the membership. Critics of NUS had long held the belief that automatic membership of a student union was an infringement of individual human rights. Robert Halfon a student from Exeter University made a submission to European Court arguing that the compulsory membership of his student union contravened freedom of association under article 11 of the Convention on Human Rights. The European Court found against him.
“….The commission recalled that art 11 of the convention offers protection in respect of private associations and trade unions, but not in respect of public institutions. It considered that the student union cannot be regarded as a professional organisation upholding ethics or discipline within a profession, or as a trade union which represents its members in a labour conflict against an employer. It is part of the University. The university being a public institution the Commission found that compulsory membership of the University’s student union was not in breach of article 11 of the convention. Manifestly ill founded; inadmissible….. ”
So the challenge failed and ultimately nothing drastic happened in the law here – the ‘opt out’ rule – allowing students to decide not to join their students’ union – was introduced and the vast majority of students to this day do not exercise this right. The Conservatives in general softened their stance towards NUS and students’ unions, culminating in a very professional and mutually beneficial relationship between NUS and David Willetts when he was HE Minister – which healed a lot of the wounds of the past battles between the student movement and Tory politicians.
It’s unclear if Sajid Javid still holds these views about NUS and we know very little about his thoughts about students and universities more generally. But you can be sure that NUS will be working very hard to ensure they get off to a good start with the new Secretary of State and to dispel any old prejudices that might linger from the battles of the 1980s and 1990s.
Thanks to readers that helped me piece this one together.
New Business Secretary
As we predicted on Friday morning, Sajid Javid is the new Business Secretary (final title hasn’t yet been announced). Seen as a rising star, he’s become close to David Cameron who has been fast-tracking Javid’s career since 2010. The City will be pleased – he’s a former banker and his ‘big hitter’ status in the Conservative Party means that he’s a powerful ally. His views on HE and Skills are largely unknown at this stage. As the reshuffle goes on, it’s looking less and less likely that there will be any serious machinery of government changes. We had thought that BIS and DCMS could be merged, or HE moved to DFE, but none of that is looking likely now. I wouldn’t rule it all out, but such moves are now much more likely to be tied to next year’s spending review, if they happen at all in this parliament.
Some other things to note about Sajid Javid:
– Grew up in Rochdale and Bristol in a working class family.
– Studied economics and politics at the University of Exeter.
– Joined Chase Manhattan Bank in New York as a graduate.
– Worked at Deutsche Bank after returning to London before entering politics in 2009.
– In the last Cabinet he was Secretary of State at DCMS and Equalities Minister and had roles in the Treasury before that.
Javid’s speech as Culture Secretary to the Union of Jewish Students in 2014 is worth a read here – it won him many plaudits.
Also worth a read – this Conservative Home profile dug out by THE in which a colleague of his from university days talks about a time he took on NUS – in circumstances that are not wholly clear – but will likely trouble today’s NUS:
“We just turned it into a kind of guerrilla fighting force. We took the NUS to the European Court of Human Rights.”
Any readers that know the details of this case, please get in touch!
The first 100 days
The Sunday newspapers have reported the government is preparing for a legislative blitz – while they are at the peak of their powers, they sense the opportunity to get through much business in Parliament. Ideas on the table are the EU Referendum Bill of course, implementing the boundary review (which will help Conservative candidates in the future), that sort of thing. Also known as red meat.
HE regulation hardly falls in to that category, but one of the benefits of acting quickly here is that the work has largely been done on an HE Bill and so could be ready to go. It will contain some compromises given to the Lib Dems as it was drafted in the Coalition years, but that will likely be easy to resolve.
In my view it would be better to tie the next stage of HE legislation to the outcome of next year’s spending review, as the landscape is going to be seriously affected by the funding settlement that is reached in March. The role of HEFCE, future of research funding etc. will all be under the CSR microscope, and the government are unlikely to want to tie their hands in this respect by introducing new laws ahead of these decisions. I could be wrong though, and all eyes will be on the Queens Speech on the 27th May.
Effect on the HE Power List
Looking back at our Power List – it was only a few weeks ago, but the whole world seems like a different place now. I’ve taken a look at the impact on some of the politicians on the list and assessed their chances for next year’s list. Read it here.
The people and the machinery
As the government reshuffle continues, elsewhere on Wonkhe, Andy Westwood has an excellent new bit of analysis about the prospects for BIS and the future of the HE and science briefs in this new Conservative majority government:
Instinctively, many Conservatives prefer the idea of universities being part of an expanded Department for Education. That feels more logical to many than having them anchored to the economy, although Osborne, with ideas of the Northern Powerhouse, thinks differently. Some officials have always supported a return to DFE because they feel that being part of a bigger department might protect them a little from a bloody Spending Review.
A return to a DTI-style BIS also has some appeal. Folding in DCMS and possibly DECC (if it doesn’t go to DEFRA) might make it look a lot like the 1992 version established by John Major and run by Michael Heseltine, amongst others. But it’s worth remembering that while the DFEE at that time (it had employment as well as education) contained universities, it was the DTI that ‘owned’ and funded most science and research.
Read the piece in full here.
Where will HE end up?
From Jonathan Simons, Head of Education at Policy Exchange:
One of the big questions whilst awaiting the new Cabinet is where HE will end up. BIS as a department is facing real financial difficulties in the upcoming spending review. It is, in the jargon, “unprotected”, which according to the IFS means it might expect to have to make total cuts of perhaps 30% over the next Parliament. The bulk of BIS’ budget is made up of HE, adult skills, and science spending. Of those, there are elements of HE which could in theory be cut (such as research funding and the Widening Participation budget) but the bulk of spend relates to accruals to repay future student loan debt, which is hard to derive savings from. Adult skills already has hefty cuts pencilled in, but in a world of more apprenticeships, spending there will need to rise. And the Tories, like all parties, will probably be reluctant to take too much money out of science. All in all, it may be a real task to make the BIS budget cuts happen, even if all possible cashable areas of spend (like business support) were reduced significantly.
One solution may be to move HE (and possibly adult skills) into DfE. As well as possible policy synergies between schools and universities, the much larger DfE budget offers a chance to offset some of the spending challenges which HE will face – though set against that, universities would have to accept, like areas such as youth services and 16-19, always playing second fiddle in that department to the headline commitment towards 5-16 per pupil school funding.
Such a plan for HE was apparently agreed were the Tories to have won in 2010. It may well be dusted down again this weekend.
The wars to come
We’re not expecting much more detail on shape of the next cabinet tonight. In the mean-time, speculation has turned to the rest of policy relating to HE and what this all means.
Emran Mian of SMF and Wonkhe’s Editorial Group points out that the lifting of student number controls and market- based expansion will all carry on as planned:
Osborne staying on as Chancellor should mean student numbers competition is here to stay #massivelyparochialHEtweet
— Emran Mian (@emranmian) May 8, 2015
Carl Lygo of BPP and Wonkhe’s Board predicts the sale of the student loan book now to go ahead without the Lib Dems around (Vince wanted to stop/slow it down). Also the prospect of much-needed HE legislation will be on the cards:
Legislation dealing with student protection issues in the Uni sector now more likely given a Conservative maj @DiasShaun @wonkhe #lovehe
— Carl Lygo (@carllygo) May 8, 2015
For the sector the policy and influencing battles to come will be on multiple fronts – and possibly more complicated than the post-Browne landscape that saw such a great deal of activity.
1. The EU referendum will be a huge distraction (UUK is already ramping up its campaign today).
2. Devolution and the future of the UK will shape much of the policy debate.
3. Theresa May staying as Home Secretary and clear continuity signalled in the Conservative Manifesto, the battles over immigration and free speech will continue.
4. Regulation and reform will continue – possibly with legislation – which will be a big project and there’s lots to play for in devising a settlement.
5. Funding will be squeezed a the next CSR comes for BIS’ budget, which could lead to a renewed debate on fees and will put pressure on part time, skills, WP, possibly even research.
In the mean time, the sector will likely need to get to know new HE and science ministers and a new Secretary of State. They’ll also have to get to grip with a whole bunch of new MPs in a completely reconfigured parliament. Good business for the wonks, perhaps. But a great deal at stake.
The reshuffle beings
Since the last update to the live blog, David Cameron’s Conservative Party have been confirmed with a 12 seat overall majority and Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage have all resigned. (There’s a line I didn’t expect to be writing today).
David Cameron is now putting together his new government – and has 35 more ministerial posts to hand out to his colleagues now the Lib Dems are no longer in government.
– George Osborne has been confirmed as Chancellor and has been given the extra title of ‘First Minister of State’ making him de facto deputy to the PM.
– Theresa May is staying put as Home Secretary
– Phillip Hammond is remaining as Foreign Secretary
As we discussed here, Sajid David is odds on to be new business secretary and questions remain about machinery of government changes. It’s possible we will see some transfer of responsibilities around BIS, DCMS and DfE which could have implications for the HE & Science briefs.
We’re having a little break after a busy night of live blogging, radio interviews and analysis but will be back online later. Coming up before lunch we expect:
– Ed Miliband to announce his resignation as leader of the Labour Party
– David Cameron to visit the Queen for his re-appointment as Prime Minister
– An announcement from Nick Clegg about his future
All in all, there’s far less uncertainty than everyone expected – predictions before last night assumed that right now the parliament would be hung and frenetic coalition negotiations would be underway.
First analysis for HE
As the Conservatives declare victory, we’ve published our first analysis of what the results mean for universities – read it here.
How the Lib Dems were wiped out
Some fuller reflection on what has happened to the Lib Dems from Dewi Knight here.
The view from dawn
As dawn’s rosey fingers creep over the wonk bunker, the pattern of a dramatic night is now becoming clear. In the last hour we have seen a string of astonishing results with Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, and architect of the £9K tuition fees policy, losing his seat in Twickenham. The people of the south London constituency have punished Cable for entry into government with the Tories by voting Tory.
Nick Clegg has held his Sheffield Hallam seat with a reduced majority from 12,000 to 2,000. His ‘success’ looks like the result of tactical voting by Conservative supporters to save the Lib Dem leader. The majority of seats in England are yet to declare but the situation seems clear enough with David Cameron returning to Downing Street. The only questions to answer are whether the Tories will achieve an actual majority and how bad it will get for Labour (we are hearing that Ed Balls may lose his seat in Leeds).
However, the parliamentary arithmetic looks like the Tories will be in a strong position. What does all this mean for universities? Well, the £6K tuition fees policy of Ed Miliband, heavily criticized by many vice chancellors, is dead. At this point it looks like no change on existing Conservative policy on fees and related HE matters. We shall see in the coming months if there really is a secret Tory plan to raise the fees cap, as they clumsily failed to deny in the election campaign. If the Conservatives enact their manifesto pledges on HE we can look forward to a teaching REF.
We can expect Ed Miliband to announce his resignation as party leader by lunchtime tomorrow and a schedule put in place for a period of introspection and bloodletting. The Conservatives should be able to command a working parliamentary arrangement for a fixed term parliament for the next five years. We await a Miliband concession speech. The story is one of Lib Dem collapse, in which the betrayal over tuition fees played a part, but the credit has gone to the Tories not to Labour. Irony can be cruelly ironic at times.
Bad night for pledge breakers
With Liberal Democrats falling all over the country, including some big names who broke their pledge to vote against an increase in tuition fees (e.g. Simon Hughes, Lynne Featherstone and now Vince Cable who was responsible for the policy in government), it was already looking like that particular issue might have been very important indeed in this election. Not the issue of HE funding – which doesn’t seem to have played a strong role at all in curtailing the Conservatives’ national vote, or boosting Labour’s – but rather the issue of political dishonesty.
It was always expected that Liberal Democrats would be hit by this, but we should remember that it wasn’t only them (or indeed all of them) who took liberties with voters’ trust. Wes Streeting’s election in Ilford North, in a closely fought battle with Conservative fee pledge breaker Lee Scott, proves the point that voters will deal harshly with candidates who they feel have let them down, whatever their party. That Mr. Scott has been defeated by the architect of the original pledge campaign only serves to make the point more explicit. A huge personal success for a rising star of the Labour Party on a very difficult night. But also, a victory for accountability.
The Scottish effect
So it now looks like Labour are heading for wipeout in Scotland. The SNP have taken Glasgow East, Labour’s safest Scottish seat, held by Willie Bain, Shadow Scottish Secretary, and former seat of one time speaker Michael Martin. The seat used to be called Glasgow Gorbals. Such a situation was unthinkable only a year ago and represents a seismic shift in Scottish and UK politics. Jim Murphy. Leader of Scottish Labour, and Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary, have both lost their seats by sizeable majorities. It is easy enough to explain this as a rejection of the politics of Conservative austerity by the Scottish electorate.
However, where it will leave Scotland tomorrow morning is not at all clear. Without a Miliband government to push against the influence of the SNP block in Westminster will be limited. A Tory government will have no interest placating the SNP and may even move to re-arrange the Union to create a federal arrangement with fiscal autonomy for Scotland, which would leave the country economically worse off that under the present Barnett dispensation. The post-election direction of travel points towards independence.
For the SNP leadership this is an accelerated moment in a long war that irrespective of the colour of Westminster government leads towards separation. Perhaps, this may yet prove to be the last ever UK election and David Cameron, who did so much in this campaign to set the English electorate against Scottish aspirations, may turn out to be the last Prime minister of the UK as we know it.
That might prove to be what is called a pyrrhic victory. Equally, now Scotland faces the prospect of 5 years of a Tory administration. Has the electorate, as the national football so often do, snatched last minute defeat from the jaws of victory? Whatever, the outcome and despite media propaganda the SNP block represents a legitimate democratic articulation within the UK parliament.
Former NUS President Wes Streeting wins Illford North – a marginal Conservative seat with a super tight majority of 389. An HE wonk, he’s one to watch as Labour rebuilds itself over the next few years.
The news came soon after another former NUS President – Jim Murphy – lost his seat in Scotland.
Andrew Pakes in Milton Keynes South is another former NUS President hoping to get elected to Parliament tonight.
An HE victory
A good news story for Labour and a big HE story for this evening. My colleague at Kingston University, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Rupa Huq has taken Ealing Central and Acton from the Conservatives. Turnout was 71.4% and incumbent Angie Bray was defending one of London’s slimmer majorities. Rupa Huq, sister of ex Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, won with a relatively small majority (only 274). In a two way fight between Labour and Conservatives, the Lib Dem vote collapsed by 21.5%. The seat came to prominence during the campaign after it was claimed that the diminutive Huq had been manhandled by Tory party minders when she challenged Mayor of London Boris Johnson during a walkabout. Rupa Huq works on the cultural history of the suburbs and popular music. Looks like I have a gap in my sociology teaching team for next semester.
As much as anything it’s a changing of the generational guard in Scotland tonight.
As Mhairi Black becomes the youngest MP for at least a century and a half, whilst still a student (politics and public policy), spare a thought for Charles Kennedy. The former Lib Dem leader, who now seems likely to lose his Ross, Skye and Lochaber, was also a student when he won the seat in a 1983 by-election.
On a Fulbright scholarship to Indiana University, working on his thesis, he came back to Scotland at short-notice to win the seat from a Tory minister in a sensational result. If 2015 does see the end of Kennedy’s 32 year parliamentary career, then it will be a big loss to liberal democracy across the UK, and the progressive centre-left will lose an articulate and popular champion.
Social science might be the winner tonight
With the Nuneaton and Battersea results both in the situation looks bad for Labour. These are seats that Labour had hopes of winning, Nuneaton was number 38 on their target list; Battersea was a possible London capture. However, we are seeing a swing towards the Conservatives in these marginal seats.
It looks as if a collapse in the Lib Dem vote has benefited the Tories. Increasingly it seems if Prof. John Curtice and his team have called it correct. Higher education can be pleased that scholarly insights and social science are winners tonight. All of this casts the 2010 election results in a different light It is beginning to look as if the last parliament was a consequence of the Lib Dems taking votes from the Conservatives as much a switch from Gordon Brown’s exhausted Labour government to Nick Clegg’s insurgent party.
Labour strategy in 2015 was based upon persuading soft Lib Dem voters to return to them with the Iraq war and the banking crisis receding into distant memory. On the contrary, it now looks like those Lib Dem voters have switched to the other side of the once Coalition. On the one hand, that is slightly baffling, defying the common wisdom of UK politics. On the other hand, it looks like handing the Conservatives a possible majority in Westminster. With the news that Douglas Alexander has lost his seat in Paisley South to 20 year old student with a 34% swing it all adds up to a glum night for Labour.
Lib Dems in freefall
It looks like the Lib Dems are in serious trouble. The Conservatives are gobbling up their seats and their votes across the land. Their u-turn on tuition fees has been totemic for the party – and acted at a lightening rod for disaffection amongst their supporters. Vince Cable is in trouble in Twickenham, Nick Clegg is fighting for his political life in Sheffield Hallam, Danny Alexander has all but lost his seat. All of them architects of the £9,000 fee regime and the ‘betrayal’ that lost the party so much support.
As I wrote earlier in the week, this has remarkably little to do with higher education fees and funding policy, particularly when you consider that many of these votes are going to the Conservatives who also supported this policy in government. But fees have come to represent something else in the public consciousness: a basic issue of trust in politics.
Other notable Lib Dems familiar to the HE sector, who are likely to lose their seats tonight are David Laws and Simon Hughes.
Governing after the election
While we wait for the real action, time for some wild speculation. Let’s imagine for a moment that the BBC exit poll, conducted by IPSOS/Mori, is correct. It would take a remarkable turn of events for it to be wrong. Even if the numbers move in different directions (the SNP do not do quite so well, the Lib Dem vote holds up slightly better) it would still seem as if David Cameron will be returning to Downing Street.
So what would that mean for our universities, and the rest of us? The closest model here would be the 1992-97 parliament of John Major with a precariously slender Conservative government. The new administration would initially have breathing space as Labour would surely have to go through a Leadership election and period of re-invention. However, the divisions on the Tory benches would soon appear as David Cameron would have to deliver on his promise of a referendum on Europe.
A large part of his parliamentary party would be pulling in the direction of a Brexit. This would be the defining issue of the next parliament as Labour and the SNP block exploited his discomfort to the full. David Cameron may find it more difficult to govern in 2015 than he did with Lib Dem coalition partners in 2010.
Bristol West could go Green
Prof. John Curtice of Strathclyde University wouldn’t say on the BBC which of the Greens’ target seats may have gone their way, but odds on it is Bristol West. If so, that would be due to three main factors. One, a general collapse – very much to be confirmed – in support for the Liberal Democrats. Two, that being exacerbated by Bristol West being a seat with a very heavy student population – and the possibility that Liberal Democrat candidates who broke their tuition fee pledge while serving as MPs in the last Parliament may be especially punished. But while these two factors would explain how the seat may be lost, but not why it would be won by the Greens in particular.
To understand that we have to bring in the third factor – that Bristol has a growing reputation for developing an authentic radical political scene, an eagerness to spike the political establishment. That too may be due to students, and even more so graduates who have remained in or moved to the city. If the seat does go Green, then the people of Bristol West will be giving real political meaning to the city’s status as this year’s European Green capital.
Double trouble for the Power List
Double trouble for numbers 12 and 13 in our Wonkhe Power List? Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander (12) seems in big trouble in his Highland seat and is rumoured to have already conceded defeat. At the same time, a pugnacious Ed Balls (13) has been forced to deny that he’s at risk of losing his Yorkshire seat.
A close confident of Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg, Mr Alexander served as his Chief of Staff before entering Government. After the briefest of spells as Scottish Secretary, he moved into his role at the Treasury, where he formed a closer partnership with George Osborne. Despite being a popular ‘local boy done good’, it seems that the SNP wave has swept him away in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey. It looks like he’s paying for that closeness to the Conservatives, allied to the phenomenal nationalist performance across Scotland.
Ed Balls losing his seat would be a big shock of the night – this was not widely predicted.
The story so far
The story of the election has been, so far, the rise of the SNP and the collapse of the Labour vote in Scotland. If we take the IPSOS/Mori poll for the BBC at face value they are suggesting the nationalists will end the night with 58 seats, that’s up from only 6 in 2010. By any estimation this would be an extraordinary outcome that was unthinkable only a few months ago.
However, if Scottish voters imagined that by voting SNP they could drag a Labour-led government to the left then this looks, on the basis of the BBC exit poll, to be something of a miscalculation. However, it would leave the SNP as the third largest party in the House, by some distance. It would raise all sorts of questions about how that block would behave at Westminster, given that so much speculation so far has been around their possible influence on Prime minister Miliband.
Depending on the final SNP share of the vote, they may change tact and claim legitimacy for a second independence referendum, especially after a possible successful Holyrood election in 2016. These circumstances, a second Tory-led coalition government, might be the ‘material change’ that Nicola Sturgeon suggested would have to happen for the SNP to campaign for a second referendum in 2016. With David Cameron back in Downing St and a rampant SNP, who would bet on a second Scottish referendum not producing a Yes vote?
Universities and the Union
In my time in Aberystwyth studying politics and history, we researched the ‘Three Wales’ model. This was the idea that that nation’s cultural, political and linguistic identity were in three parts (Y Fro (Welsh speaking Wales); Welsh Wales & British Wales). If tonight’s results are as predicted in the BBC exit poll – we could now be seeing a ‘Three Britain’ model: Nationalist Scotland, Tory England and Labour Wales.
Higher education policies have certainly already diverged during the 15 years of devolution, but if tonight turns out as predicted surely we will deviate even further? A more and more diverse sector in England, with the maximum fee cap raised further; continuation of no fees for domestic students in Scotland and a dirigiste approach; and a planned sector in Wales, but seeking even more departure from the consumerist, market approach in England.
If, as it seems, England has found its voice tonight – and it’s singing a Tory tune – how sustainable is the UK’s funding approach to the nations, a UK higher education market, and perhaps even the Union itself…
Seats to watch – Cardiff Central
Labour will be keen to win Cardiff Central back tonight. Home to campuses of Cardiff Uni, Cardiff Met, South Wales and The OU in Wales’s HQ, it’s a key university constituency with a student population in the thousands in the districts of Cathays, Roath and Riverside.
A Lib Dem fortress during the early years of the century, the party lost the Welsh Assembly seat in 2011 and control of the council in 2012. Jenny Willott has been the MP since 2005, but faces a strong Labour campaign in order to keep hold of the seat. A tuition-fees rebel, she stood down from her position as a government whip last year to concentrate on her re-election campaign.
A Labour win has long been thought probable, but the Lib Dems have picked up support over the last few months and is likely to be a lot closer than previously predicted. Willott goes into the election with a majority of 4,000+.
Exit poll wars
In the wonk bunker we are trying to make sense of the BBC IPSOS/Mori exit poll like everyone else. It puts the Conservatives on 316 seats, with Labour on 239, the SNP on 58 and Lib Dems on only 10, and gains for UKIP and the Greens (2 each). However, other polls are available. YouGov are saying Conservatives on 284 with Labour on 263, Lib Dems on 31 and SNP on 48. This looks to be much more in line with what the polling data has been saying through out the campaign.
However, this poll is not quite an exit poll. It’s a survey of the same voters over the last two days. That YouGov poll gives the share of the vote as Cons 36%, Lab 35%, UKIP 11%, LD 8% and Greens 5%. Electoral Calculus offer a different picture. You may recall that they were most accurate at the same time in 2010. They are putting the Conservatives on 280, Labour on 274, Lib Dems on 21 and SNP on 51. Again this Electoral Calculus poll is their last pre-election prediction. As the early marginal results come in we will see how secure that IPSOS/Mori poll really is.
Incidentally, IPSOS/Mori also run the NSS on behalf of HEFCE.
If the BBC poll is right, then it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the bellwether seats that are also home to campuses of the University of Bedfordshire. Seats such as Bedford (Con majority of 1353) and Milton Keynes South (Con majority of 5201) will not be moving from the blue column to the red.
These are ‘must wins’ for Ed Miliband if he hopes to lead the largest party in the next parliament. If the Tories can hold on them, then it’s likely that the shock BBC exit poll is nearer to the truth than not, despite the reaction of Paddy Ashdown, Harriet Harman et al. That’ll be bad news for former NUS President Andrew Pakes, who’s standing for Labour in Milton Keynes. The University’s biggest campus is in Luton South, a former swing seat, but it would have to be a very bad night for Labour (even worse than the BBC poll) for popular and talented local MP Gavin Shuker to lose the seat.
Whatever happens, it’ll be a fascinating night for UoB students on @RadioLaB971fm who are covering those seats tonight.
Politicians and their doctorates
There’s a bit of a lull until we get some concrete results now, we’ve been looking up the PhD titles of MPs (or candidates – as they still are). There hasn’t been a lot of academic talent in our Parliament over the last few years, but where we’ve had it, it’s been quite intriguing.
Here are some politicians and their doctorate titles:
Economic integration and the industrialisation of small, developing nations: the case of Central America
Understanding the lifeworld of social exclusion
Visual Reasoning in Euclid’s Geometry
Writing for Women: a study of woman as reader in Elizabethan romance
Reason, Ridicule and Religion: Age of Enlightenment in England
Ethics, Emotion and the Unity of the Self
Have any more? Send them in to us on Twitter.
Mark & Dewi
The 2015 election sees 90 MPs stepping down from parliament. They include former Universities and Science minister David Willetts, who saw out the entire 2010 parliament in the role. He vacates his Havant seat, which should be a easy hold for the Conservatives.
Another former universities minister, Labour’s John Denham, is also stepping down. His Southampton, Itchen seat is a close Labour-Conservative marginal (36.8% vs 36.3% in 2010) with a strong Lib Dem showing in third. Other notable departures include former ministers Hazel Blears, David Blunkett, Alistair Darling, Frank Dobson, Peter Hain, Jack Straw and of course Gordon Brown for Labour; Malcolm Bruce, Don Foster and Menzies Campbell for the Liberal Democrats; and Stephen Dorrell, William Hague, Andrew Lansley, Francis Maude, Malcolm Rifkin, Tim Yeo, and George Young for the Conservatives. The House will also be less colourful without Austin Mitchell, Glenda Jackson and Eric Joyce, who are all retiring from Labour’s ranks.
The BBC have published their exit poll and are predicting:
Lib Dem: 10
If this result is accurate, then it’s likely David Cameron will remain as Prime Minister with a such a clear lead in seats and other parties probably unable to form a coalition to beat him. It means complete wipeout for the Lib Dems leaving a tiny rump of seats.
Most pundits agree – this result- if accurate – is far less close than the polls and markets predicted.
The College of Europe
The new government’s attitude to Europe, and a potential referendum, has been a ‘clear blue water’ issue during the election. So beyond implications for UK HE research funding, what’s the other European university election links for Wonkhe? How about the European postgrad ‘finishing school’ that links the BIS Permanent Secretary (Martin Donnelly) with prominent figures in each of the three main UK parties.
Once described by the Times as the ”hothouse where the ambitious and talented go to make contacts”, the College of Europe counts Martin Donnelly as an alumnus, alongside the Deputy Prime Minister. In fact, Nick Clegg met his future wife, the international lawyer Miriam González Durántez at the College. Just as Stephen Kinnock (hoping to be new Labour MP for Aberavon) met his future spouse and current Danish PM, Helle Thorning-Schmidt whilst studying at the College.
Kinnock’s fellow Anglo-Welshman Simon Hughes also studied there, gaining a postgraduate certification in European Studies. Andrew Tyrie, one of the backbench stars of the last Parliament as an effective Chair of the Treasury Select Committee also studied at the College.
Good evening – we are opening the Wonkhe General Election Live Blog. With 40 minutes until the close of polls, broadcasters are not yet allowed to speculate about the outcome, and we await the exit poll due around 10pm – the first real indication about the shape of the next parliament. The final polls were a dead heat between Labour and the Conservatives and most pundits – as well as the betting markets – are predicting a hung parliament – the second in a row.
Your guide to the HE night has been handily prepared in advance by David Kernohan – you can read it here. We’ll cover all the key developments relating to universities and students as they happen overnight – and as things develop in the wake of the election.
We’ll keep the blog going at least until the constitutional experts agree about its outcome – so it could be HE that decides things after all…