Election 2010 – Your Choice Your Vote
You have a record 60 Women MPs and a substantial number of black and ethnic minority MPs standing in thiselection. Do you think that the Conservatives have finally managed to detach themselves away from their too white and too male image?
Of course we’ve still got a long way to go – but look how far we’ve already come. When David Cameron became Leader four years ago, he recognised we needed to change our Party so that we better represent the nation we aspired to govern. And today, thanks to the choices of local Conservative associations, we have made big progress and we now have more women and BME candidates than ever before. The face of the Conservative Party in Parliament will change significantly after the next election. If we were to win by a majority of just one, we would move from having 18 women MPs to about 60. What’s more, approximately nine per cent of our candidates are from BME communities, a number of them in Conservative-held or winnable seats; and a number of candidates have been selected from those who came forward after David Cameron opened up the list last year, showing the Party’s commitment to new politics. It’s a big change and it means that as we come at this election, we really can look at every British community and say: we are with you, we are like you, we are for you, we are ready to serve you, and if we win, we will be on your side.
British Muslim students, especially of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, even though are performing better than a few years ago, are still underachieving more than any other ethnic communities, why do you think this is so and what would your party do to combat this if it comes to power?
The reasons behind the under-achievement of British Pakistani and Bangladeshi young people are many and complex – failures in the schools system, a lack of information about applying to university, poor careers advice, financial problems, low aspirations, poor language skills, negative peer pressure and many more. But we believe that these barriers are not insurmountable – there are a number of steps which the next Government could take to begin addressing these problems almost immediately.
First, if we win the election, a Conservative government would take swift action to help end the shortages of study places which currently hit under-represented groups particularly hard, funding an extra 10,000 extra university places this year.
Second, to help young people learn about and take advantage of these new opportunities, we will redirect £180m to pay for proper careers advice in every secondary school and college in the country.
Third, to help students choose the right courses and universities, we will provide much better information about the options available, and the true costs and benefits of going to university, online.
Fourth, we will work to reform the system of university funding – which doesn’t do enough to help disadvantaged students – and ensure young people from poorer communities get the help they need.
Fifth, to help young people who don’t go to university, we would create thousands of other opportunities to learn a real trade, including 100,000 extra apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships each year.
Sixth, to help unemployed youngsters get off benefits and into work, we will reform the welfare system and create 100,000 work experience placements and 100,000 college places for unemployed young people.
And finally, we will tackle the problems in the schools system which prevent children realising their full potential at a young age. Our plans to open many more good schools with small classes, recruit new top-quality teachers and provide extra funding to support disadvantaged pupils will give more young people the good start in life that they deserve.
The highest number of the unemployed in this country are from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities; they’re two or three times more likely to be unemployed than their white British counterparts. How do you propose to make this fairer?
In a number of ways.
Radical welfare reform. We need to give everyone who is unemployed better support back into work. We will replace Labour’s numerous and bureaucratic employment programmes with a single integrated welfare to work programme for everyone on out-of-work benefits, including the 2.6 million people claiming Incapacity Benefits currently excluded by Labour. The Work Programme will be delivered by the private and voluntary sector who will be paid by results when they get someone into sustainable work. This fully funded programme will replace Labour’s failing New Deals, the Flexible New Deal and Pathways to Work.
Extra support to tackle youth unemployment. Young people have been hit particularly hard by Labour’s recession. Under our plans to Get Britain Working no young person will be unemployed for more than 6 months without being referred for specialist help through our new Work Programme. To provide more opportunities for young people we will create 200,000 new apprenticeships and pre apprenticeships, 100,000 further education places and 100,000 work pairings over the next two years as well as an extra 10,000 university places this year to cope with higher demand.
Help to set up a new business. We will create a new network of business mentors who will offer one to one advice and support and access to loans to support self-employment and franchising as a route back into work.
Abolishing tax on new jobs. We will abolish tax on the jobs created by new businesses in the first two years of a Conservative Government. Any new business started in the first two years of a Conservative Government will pay no Employer National Insurance on the first ten employees it hires during its first year. The tax break will encourage new entrepreneurs and is predicted to generate around 60,000 additional jobs over two years.
Improved Careers Advice.The current careers advice system is woefully inadequate. The ‘Connexions’ service does not provide the targeted, specialist careers advice which young people need , and Government funding for careers advice and guidance fell by nearly 16 per cent between 2001 and 2008 (Skills Commission, Inspiration and Aspiration: Realising our Potential in the 21st Century, 2008). In around two-thirds of schools in England, careers advice is co-ordinated or delivered by staff without any formal qualifications in the field (National Audit Office, Connexions Service: Advice and guidance for all young people, March 2004). We will redirect the careers advice element of Connexions, providing £180 million to fund a careers adviser in every secondary school and college in the country. We will also spend £100 million to create a new all-age careers advice service, which will provide a community-based source of advice and guidance for people of all ages. This will simultaneously create a strong, specialised, coherent careers guidance service while freeing up Connexions to do what it does best: providing broad support for at-risk young people.
The Equality Bill. We supported the Equality Bill which will help to consolidate and simplify equality legislation. The Equality Bill contains new provisions to allow for positive discrimination. When making appointments, the Bill allows companies to positively discriminate in favour of a certain candidate based on race, gender or another ‘protected characteristic’ where candidates are otherwise equally qualified. For example a primary school with all-women teachers could discriminate in favour of a male candidate, where there was a male and female candidate of equal merit. In general, Conservatives welcome this move but we would be concerned if this provision allowed positive action on a large-scale as a recruitment policy, rather than as a one-off ‘tie breaker’.
Muslims have been disproportionately affected by anti terror legislations, especially in stop and search procedures. What is your policy on this?
As part of our campaign to get the balance right between security and civil liberties, we will review and consolidate the reams of counter-terrorism law introduced by Labour. As part of this we would end the abuse of stop and search powers, stop inappropriate spying by bodies such as local authorities, and launch a full review of the controversial Control Orders system.
Birmingham is a city with a worrying upsurge in gun crime. How does your party anticipate combating this widespread problem?
We will cut police paperwork so that they can get back out on the streets fighting crime. We’ll also let people elect their local police chief who will be able to set police priorities. In Birmingham, for instance, they could lead a campaign to deal with gun crime.
What is your stance on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Should our troops finally come home or are we duty bound to finish what we started?
We do not regret the fact that Saddam Hussein has gone. However increasingly as we hear the evidence given to the Chilcot inquiry we feel that the Parliament was misled on the reasons why we went to war. At the same time, as this is an independent inquiry, we shall only be able to make our full assessment once the results of the inquiry have been made public.
We support the mission in Afghanistan. 9/11 was planned there and, if we fail, the Taliban and Al Qaeda will return to plot new attacks. Only when the Afghan Security Forces are fully trained and can provide security for the country can we begin to withdraw our forces.
In light of the Jamie Bulger tragedy, do you think the criminal age should be raised from 10 – 12?
We have no plans to change the age of criminal responsibility. Police and prosecutors already have discretion to decide whether it is in the public interest to bring a charge against a young person, and there are out of court disposals available that can keep young people out of the criminal justice system. There is a danger that if the age of criminal responsibility were raised, older criminals would use children to put their crimes outside the reach of the law. What we need is far more fundamental reform to address the causes of offending by children, including family breakdown, poverty, gang culture and school discipline.
Part of your strategy to limit immigration is to introduce an English test for any person coming to England to get married. Some might ask what the point is when one in five white middle class British school children cannot read and write proper English.
This policy is not just about immigration, but integration into British society. Every British citizen has the right to marry someone from abroad. It is important though that those who come as spouses to the UK with the intention of settling here, are prepared to integrate fully into their new community. Learning English is essential to playing a full role in modern British society, and spouses who come here with prior knowledge of English would be better equipped. Without this requirement, integration can be delayed by another generation, as all the evidence shows that children born into households where English is not spoken by the mother are put at an educational disadvantage. You are right to say that our education system has serious problems. That is why we are committed to raising standards in schools, so that more people leave with the skills they need to get on.
You state that you aim to tackle forced marriages. How?
Forced marriage has no place in Britain today. The appalling practice of bringing young women, often with little English, to the UK without their explicit consent is wrong, and they deserve better protection. Measures Conservatives would introduce to help to prevent forced marriages include a system of pre-registration for anyone going abroad to be married, and a clear code of conduct for Entry Clearance Officers to ensure that both the sponsor and spouse have freely chosen to marry.
Why should we vote conservative in this election?
We represent change. We will change the economy. We will back aspiration and opportunity for all. We need action now to cut the deficit, help keep mortgage rates low and get the economy moving. We will stop Labour’s job tax.
We will change society. We will mend our broken society by encouraging responsibility and backing those who do the right thing. We will make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe. We will back the NHS, which matters more to families than anything. We will reform education with new schools – and standards and discipline for all. We will tackle welfare dependency and the causes of poverty.
We will change politics. We will give people more power and control. We will sort out the mess of MPs’ expenses, cut Parliament, Whitehall and the cost of politics. We will make politics more local, more transparent and more accountable.
Interview by Zeenat Moosa