Ivory Tower: a new column from Theresa Wellington MP as she returns to government
Let me begin by saying that I enjoy association football as much as the next person, but when the next person is Gary Lineker, then… er… maybe not. Let me start again.
It is an absolute delight to be back in government and once more talking at you in these pages. This week I have been appointed to the new science department as under minister for levelling, universities and research.
When I last wrote for you, I was still a minister between two stools with my joint appointment across the department for education and the department for business, energy and industrial strategy, covering my unique brief to level universities and students. That was in March. A lot has happened since then.
Do the right thing
Some of the north London, woke, liberal Twitterati criticised me for being slow to leave Boris Johnson’s government. That is extremely unfair.
I resigned, like so many of my colleagues, with great reluctance but it is important to do the right thing. That is why I resigned for the good of the nation.
When I saw a cavalcade of ministers quitting government, I decided I needed to join them. Had I not resigned I would have been the only minister left at the DfE and would have been asked to make decisions I am just not qualified to make.
Frantic civil servants were asking me about primary schools and early years. That’s why I decided to take responsibility and resign.
I admit I was a bit surprised that when Boris then announced he would also be resigning—thereby proving my point that resignation was good—that he did not invite me back as minister while he saw out his time in office. Instead, he gave my job to Angela Edgington who was once filmed flicking the Vs at a group of school children visiting Downing Street, thinking they were BBC journalists the same size as they are on the television, or something.
There then followed a period of change in the government during which I would be the first to admit that we did not get everything right. Although it is hard to remember.
I backed Liz Truss in the leadership election. Yes, I initially supported Nadhim Zahawi, who would have made a great prime minister had he lasted in the contest for more than a week.
Then I backed Penny Mordaunt, who would also have made a great prime minister. I would have been very happy as secretary of state for transport in her government, like she promised.
Fortunately, there is so much talent in our party that I was able to then give my backing to Rishi Sunak, who would also have made a great prime minister had he won the contest. Hold on, is that right? I’m going to have to check some notes here.
During the leadership race it became clear to me that only Liz’s tax-cutting and growth agenda could give this country what it deserves after Brexit. That’s why I changed my mind and gave my vote to Liz, and not as some sniping journalists have said because I would later become minister for carbon emissions and international travel.
When Liz asked me to take on that role, I had no expectation of anything other than the opportunity to serve my country in the best way I could. Liz asked me to bring forward a white paper on cutting red tape in airport fast-track queues but sadly the ink was barely dry on my investigative travel itinerary when the prime minister resigned.
Once again, the Conservatives put the good of the country first and we had another leadership contest. Once again, I backed Penny before sticking with my first choice of voting for Rishi, or was it Boris? Where are those notes?
I admit that I was disappointed not to be included in Rishi’s initial run of ministerial appointments, especially since Gavin Williamson had got a job. What I mean is, I’m a huge fan of Gavin’s, and as I told him when he was chief whip, I would never say a bad word about him in print or in private as agreed.
However, like the entire country I was thrilled when the prime minister created the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. On the doorsteps of my constituency of Rougemur Central, they are taking about nothing else.
The prime minister’s comprehensive offer of extra maths lessons up until the age of 18 and the new science and technology framework launched this week has really captured the imagination of the country. You can see the dreamy faraway look in people’s eyes when I tell them we are going to have science superpowers.
Personal news in person
Let me just say in passing that, yes, I was the MP for Rougemur East but the boundary commission review has resulted in my constituency being merged with Angela Edgington’s Barnstorm and Spittle to create Rougemur Central. I am absolutely delighted to have been given the nod by the membership to fight the seat at the next election, so I am getting used to using the name.
In the Commons tearoom last week, Angela congratulated me warmly and said that if anyone deserves what was coming to the Conservatives at the next election it was me. I wished Angela well and suggested that as she is always saying about asylum seekers, she should stop at the first safe seat she can find.
Anyway, it’s been a great week for me personally with the prime minister asking me to return to government as the under minister for levelling, universities and research. It’s a chance once more to do what I do best.
It is my dream job, apart from being prime minister itself, which is obviously my absolute dream job. Fortunately, we are such a gifted party that there is not a vacancy at the moment. But Liz’s premiership really inspired me to believe there are no checks on talent in the Conservatives.
So, for now, I will be working in the science department to align university research with our levelling ambitions. I’ll be leading on exciting new plans for low tax, high growth “speculation, investment and venture zones”, or SPIVZ.
We want each of our designated areas to have at least one university, one casino, and an air strip for private jets. That’s how we will create the conditions for inward investment and offshore benefits in this country.
I have already spoken to a number of vice chancellors who say they share my vision for risk and reward, or at least want to meet me halfway and start with the reward bit. I am very much looking forward to getting out of Whitehall and visiting university campuses up and down the land, just as soon as the rail strikes end.
Let me conclude by saying that I know many people in higher education are concerned that the government is dragging its feet over Europe. But let me tell you, we have never been more committed to doing a deal with the EU.
Only this morning the prime minister was in talks with Emmanuel Macron to ensure that PhD students are not bringing their families over in small boats to swamp our libraries and hotels. The shores of the innovation nation are no place for the billions of illegal Gary Lineker followers who want to come here to watch the BBC without a license.
Hold on, is that right? Lefty lawyers, stop the votes, something, something… look, I’ll check this out and get back to you…