Andrea Leadsom MP on refunding students their tuition fees: “The situation is not fair on students”

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Durham University Conservative Association (DUCA) hosted an online talk with the Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom on the 15th July. 

Leadsom’s political career began in 2003 but it was 2010 when she was first elected to Parliament as the MP for South Northamptonshire. Since then, her support for the Leave campaign in the 2016 EU Referendum and two canvasses for the party leadership has made her a key figure within the Conservative Party. She has held numerous roles in the cabinet but, as of February 2020, sits as a backbencher.

Co-hosted with the University Conservative Association Federation, DUCA invited the former cabinet minister to recommend her advice to students interested in pursuing political careers and offer her views to topical questions asked by DUCA members and Palatinate.

Childhood dream to be a politician

Leadsom’s decision to enter politics was fixed at the age of thirteen. Growing up during the Cold War and the nationwide t fear of nuclear annihilation, she developed the belief that “the only way to improve the world around you is to roll up your sleeves and get on and do it”. The best way to fulfil that, she thought, was to become a politician. Unashamed of her ambition starting at an early age, Leadsom shared her experience as a Conservative at Warwick University recalling that “you’re not considered cool to be a Conservative on campus”.

“Politics is a very bloody business”

The MP for South Northampton praised student politics for being more organised than it was in her university days, attributing its success to the engagement and outreach made capable by social media. 

When a DUCA member asked how national parties can best enfranchise youth, Leadsom emphasised that politicians need to engage with social media and Zoom to make their message more accessible to the next generation of voters. She compared her efforts on Instagram and Twitter to older politicians, particularly those who are reluctant to use social media.  

Leadsom warned her audience that “politics is a very bloody business”, noting that more than 100 constituencies rejected her application to be their parliamentary candidate in the 2005 General Election. Recognising that Parliament is populated with extremely intelligent individuals, Leadsom recommended that aspiring politicians pursue another career before entering politics – to gain “invaluable wisdom” and self-assurance.

Running for leadership

Image via UK Home Office/ Policy Exchange

Her years of unpopularity spearheading the Conservative Association at university seem a distant memory, for today Andrea Leadsom is very popular within the Conservative party. 

“I handed her the keys to Number 10”

A staunch Brexit supporter, when Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, Leadsom was riding the winning chariot when she found herself inundated with encouragement to take the reins, following the resignation of David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party.

Leadsom said that Cameron’s resignation came as a surprise to her and within a few days, she received 30,000 emails asking her to consider running the leadership election. 

Leadsom came second in the first two ballots. Her withdrawal before the Members Vote resulted in Theresa May, unopposed, winning the leadership contest. “The race taught me to never hold a grudge”. Prioritising a swift exit out of the EU, Leadsom felt the need to rally behind [May]” because “I handed her the keys to Number 10”. 

However, Leadsom resigned from her cabinet position in May 2019 in protest of ’s Brexit strategy. She fought a campaign to replace her as the leader, losing to Boris Johnson. 

Coronavirus: Early education the priority over university Education

When asked what her proudest achievement in politics, aside from her efforts in the Leave campaign, she expressed pride in her early years agenda. On the behalf of the government, she is conducting a review into how to improve health outcomes for babies and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is crucial in the elimination of the inequalities that exist in the first 1001 days of life, which significantly determine lifelong emotional and physical health. 

Leadsom’s concern is focused on the falling standard of education for younger children. She argued that the socialization and independence young children learn from school is just as important as the English and Maths. She offered the solution of “Nightingale schools” whereby volunteers can help children en masse to catch up their education over the summer holidays in a socially distanced setting, and suggested that MPs could be among the volunteers during their thirty-eight-day summer recess. 

Palatinate later asked: “do you think it is fair for students to pay the full tuition fee, considering the cancellation and changes to teaching due to strikes and the coronavirus pandemic?”. Leadsom concluded: “there is no straightforward answer”. 

She commented that the situation is “not fair on students”, who should be able to argue their money back if universities have not made significant effort to step up online teaching, in order to justify the fee. On the other hand, she explained her concern that if all students demand refunds, the infrastructure of the university system would collapse.

Balancing safety with economic recovery.

With regards to her views on coronavirus measures, Leadsom warned that forcing people to wear masks could reduce consumer confidence, which could in turn reduce the number of people going to the shops, and slow the country’s economic recovery. 

However, she said would prioritise a “green recovery” over a quick exit out of the current recession, so that the UK can enjoy long-run growth and leadership in offshore wind, battery storage and carbon capture.

Image: Flickr via Policy exchange

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