This is purely my personal opinion. There is no corporate Cornerstone view
Three issues feature today, all of which are key concerns for Cornerstone members.
1) Education: the continuing backlash over David Willetts’ speech. Cornerstone member Nadine Dorries (a member of the Party’s Public Services Improvement Policy Group) says: “We have spent months working on education, so why didn’t they wait until the policy group had presented its findings? Why did David bypass the parliamentary party and announce our policy to the CBI?” I couldn’t agree with her more. “They’re wrong”, she told the Daily Telegraph [Jonathan Isaby’s ‘Spy column’, p 6 today], “if they intend running the Conservative Party like Tony Blair ran the Labour Party.” Right again.
Just in case there was any lingering doubt about the advisability of the new approach, the Telegraph also reports today [p 6] that only 19% of “all those questioned” in a Yougov poll – including non-Conservative voters – are in favour of the system proposed by David Willetts (a mix of comprehensives and City Academies). And only 13 per cent of our voters back the idea.
But, as I have said before, the way this debate is being presented is false. The leadership must not caricature the Right as simply saying “Bring back grammar schools”. Those who share my views know that while grammars do help some poor children – and just because you do not qualify for free school meals does not make you stinking rich – they are only part of the answer. There are many other up-to-date ideas for helping children escape the ghetto of low-quality education. Vouchers are part of the picture as well. It is not the Right that is stuck in the past; by seeming to endorse the comprehensive principle, I fear the Party is embracing out-dated ideas which have now had their day.
Can anyone explain the thinking behind the Willetts speech? As Churchill once said of Russia “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
2) Abortion: Ann Winterton will introduce a Private Member’s Bill on June 5 which seeks to require both counselling for pregnant women considering abortion and a week’s ‘cooling-off’ period afterwards. [Catholic Herald, p. 2 today’s issue]. As she says “It is really important that people are not bounced into having an abortion because they are in a state of panic without considering alternatives and without alerting them to possible consequences to their physical and mental health. The alternative is that they can choose to have their babies. There are organisations”, she says, “which will provide support in every single way, including financial support…” Ann hopes that her bill will be the first stage in restricting the 1967 Abortion Act, which in practice allows abortion on demand in the first 24 weeks.The Bill would make doctors specify on notification forms whether an abortion had been permitted either on mental or physical grounds, instead of the ‘and/or’ approach now current. This would, according to pro-life groups, prevent ‘social’ abortions.
Ann points to a study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry showing that previously mentally healthy women had a far higher risk of developing psychiatric illness after abortion than those not aborting.
I would certainly be minded to back her Bill, and would urge colleagues to give it serious consideration.
3) Europe: Blair has given Brown joint responsibility for government strategy on a revised EU Constitution. See the Telegraph [p5], which calls this a sign of “dual premiership”. Tactics are being devised in preparation for the summit of EU leaders in June.
Perhaps Brown’s – relative – Euroscepticism when compared to Blair is at least one crumb of comfort we can take from his now assured succession. But I hope that next year when we fulfil our pledge to withdraw from collaboration with the EPP we will signal a distinctive approach that will show who the real Eurosceptics are.
David Cameron has already offended Angela Merkel over this issue. I applaud him warmly for doing so. Blair has shown quite enough contempt for parliament already; now let us restore some respect to it.
Edward Leigh is Co-Chairman of The Cornerstone Group