Leader comment: May’s words seem at odds with actions

Theresa May talks about opportunity for all in her keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference  but Tories are still going ahead with grammar schools in England. Picture: Getty Images

Theresa May talks about opportunity for all in her keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference but Tories are still going ahead with grammar schools in England. Picture: Getty Images

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Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Great Britain and of course the leader of the Conservative party, has spelled out her vision of the future, of the country she wishes to create, but what are we to take from the speech?

Significantly, it did not contain one single new policy announcement, so really it comes down to an analysis of language and tone. Immigration has been an important subject matter, and Mrs May has made it clear that she sees the Brexit vote as a raising of concern about immigration.

Earlier at the Conservative conference we had one policy proposal from Home Secretary Amber Rudd, which was that the government are preparing to ask businesses to give lists of the employees they have who are foreign. It is supposed to concentrate business owners’ minds on the employment of indigenous people. It will certainly concentrate the minds of every foreign national employed in this country – and not in a positive way. It has been described as a nasty little policy, and they appear to be rowing back from it. It is a sinister policy which can only create division. The clear implication is of “us” and “them”.

And the Prime Minister’s language yesterday reinforces that, but tries disingenuously to cloak it the guise of unwelcome truths. When talking about how the poor were the greater victims of the financial crash she said: “...and I know a lot of people don’t like to admit this – someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration”. This is simply divisive but she is seeking to pander to those protest voters in the referendum.

The prime minister also wanted to portray the Tories as the party of the working person, but her predecessor made the same pitch. There were other echoes of Mr Cameron yesterday too when Mrs May also said she wanted to target tax-avoiding big businesses, a main plank of Mr Cameron’s speeches.

And Mrs May’s condemnation of government promoting the interests of the privileged and the powerful seemed to take no account of the fact the Tories have been in power for six years now.

There was strong oratory – she wants a country “where every single person, regardless of their background or that of their parents, is given the chance to be all they want to be”. And yet she is set on a course for education in England creating more grammar schools, which will simply mean those that do not get selected for these elite institutions get very little chance of a fair opportunity to fulfil their potential. The creation of grammar schools is by very definition a lie to opportunity for all.

The real proof of Mrs May’s speech will be whether she can live up to her words, whether she can deliver on what she needs to do to make her visions a reality.

To give us some confidence that this is the case a concrete policy helping to achieve these aims, a practical step towards them, would have gone a long way to help us not arriving at the inevitable conclusion that these are fine words, but they seem at odds with actions.

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