‘Blair’s 50% target is NUTS’ – Tory MP says turn bust universities into training colleges

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West Bromwich West MP Shaun Bailey says Tony Blair’s target of getting 50 percent of young people in England into university was “completely nuts”. Instead, he wants universities that go bankrupt because of the expected fall in foreign student numbers and the switch to online teaching to become the backbone of a new era of vocational educational.

He said: We should seize the opportunity and turn them into vocational colleges that train people in the new and ancient skills of productive work… We need plumbers, electricians and bricklayers and while we’re at it we should put law and accountancy in the vocational colleges.”

Mr Bailey is one of a new generation of Conservative MPs who shatters Tory stereotypes.

He was brought up in a council house and in his maiden speech in Parliament he described how his mother “survived terrible domestic abuse” and “saved me and my sister”.

Today, he is passionate about the importance of good social housing, arguing that children need space to do their homework. He does not want a “rehash of austerity” and he says the “courageous people who work in care homes should have a status of honour not be prey to contracting out and short term casual contract”

Mr Bailey studied Law and French at Aberystwyth before working as a trainee solicitor but he says if he had his time again he does not think he would go to university.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is in theory you could become a judge without having stepped foot in a university,” he said.

Young people should know, he says, that “working with your hands is just as rewarding and just as respected as working in an office”.

His journey to the green benches of the Commons has been swift. He was driven to defy people who had low expectations for him because of his background.

He said: “I remember my mum telling me that she was told by one of my teachers, ‘Just think it fortunate if he’s not on the street corner selling drugs by the time he’s 17.’ I mean, that was absolutely disgraceful.”

The 2019 election saw iconic seats in Labour’s traditional heartlands turn blue as voters rejected Jeremy Corbyn and embraced Boris Johnson’s Brexit vision. The key to keeping these seats Conservative, Mr Bailey argues, is keeping election pledges.

The MP is in no doubt as to what sealed the deal with voters.

He said: “They voted for us because we said that we respected the place they lived in and the jobs they did; that we respected their values and hopes that they could honour their obligations to the people they loved; that we would renew our country and give them a chance to work and prosper in the places they live in.”

He speaks with ambition of wanting to revive “forgotten” towns that were once thriving industrial communities, stating: “We’ve got to keep our promises and if we do that I think we’ll hold onto them.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, he predicts, will struggle to connect with voters.

He said: “I know what it’s like to live with practically nothing… He just doesn’t have that level of cut-through.”

Nothing less than Labour civil war could await Sir Keir, he claims, pointing to the presence in the parliamentary party of MPs who were selected and elected in the Corbyn era.

“He’s also got a backbench full of people recruited by Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.

Mr Bailey and his newly-elected comrades from across Britain’s traditional manufacturing heartlands have also changed the demographics of the Conservatives.

He said: “If you look at, particularly, our backbenches now, the array of regional accents, of backgrounds… I mean, you just wouldn’t have had that 15, 20 years ago. It would have been a particular type of individual that was perceived as a Tory MP.”

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