Why is Nobody Talking About Justine Greening?
The Education Minister is often overlooked when assessing Conservative Party talent. She represents a missed opportunity.
As the Conservative Party gears up for their annual conference in Manchester, all eyes appear to be on Theresa May’s premiership. With Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and many others making their opinions on Brexit and their visions of the country post-EU known, the media focus on conference will undoubtedly be on these larger-than-life characters.
But away from the pantomime, something significant will happen. Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, will share the stage with Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for a talk entitled ‘Delivering a fairer future for young people’. The particulars of this speech aren’t yet known, but speculation centres around her target to ensure a ‘good’ school place for every child and bringing forward plans for alternative provision for children outside the main school system. Taken on their own, this is standard fare for a speech from and Education Secretary. However, in the context of the current Conservative government, this is an important move.
Education policy in the current government is most publically characterised by the dramatic U-Turn on grammar schools, which are felt by some within the party to be bastions of elitism and drivers of inequality. By regrounding party policy in alternative education, Justine Greening will shift the emphasis of government policy onto those most disadvantaged by the current system. In the context of creating ‘A Country that works for Everyone’, this is an important step, and if executed correctly, will have a transformative effect on the lives of those the country has left behind.
This isn’t the only policy Greening has in her arsenal. Her education department is creating non-academic routes into education via apprenticeships, she has recently confirmed. Whilst the policy will pit her against the current crop of teachers, the policy will reaffirm the value she and the government places on vocational education, as well as making classrooms more representative of the wider community and better placed to engage with more vocationally suited children. Academy reform amongst other policies, are also on the table.
This begs the question — Why aren’t the Conservative Party paying more attention to her? Whilst many members are searching for a purpose for the party to protect themselves against a resurgent Labour, a state-educated cabinet minister is rolling out policies which will increase social mobility and provide clear domestic policy whilst the government works on Brexit. Greening is the perfect example of how the Conservative party can work for those left behind and provide a progressive domestic agenda, and yet she still has no real public persona, and is almost always left out of conversations about leadership.
Maybe it’s a lack experience in the spotlight which is holding her back. Maybe she’s simply unambitious when it comes to leadership. But if Conservatives are looking for a figure who can recast their party as the champions of social mobility, and for a cabinet minister to prepare for a greater role in the party, they’d do well to look at Greening.