The Bournemouth Rock spoke to the Secretary of State for Business Sajid Javid about the Paris attacks, dealing with ISIS, policing, tuition fees and his aspirations to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister.
Here is Luke Hastings’ exclusive Q and A with a member of Cameron’s cabinet…
How fearful are you that similar attacks to those in Paris will occur here in the UK?
“Obviously they were tragic events. I think it’s just a reminder that whatever you do to keep your country safe whether it’s through police, security services or intelligence you can never feel 100% safe. It’s an opportunity to keep working with our allies, the French and others and to take whatever measures we can to protect people.”
Under different circumstances in 2013, MPs rejected the use of air strikes in Syria, what is your position on bombing ISIS camps in Syria and how will you vote when the opportunity arises possibly before Christmas?
“What happened in Paris is a reminder that ISIS is a threat to us here at home. We are right to go after ISIS in Iraq at the moment and I think it is nonsense that we do that in Iraq but if they run across the border into Syria we have to stop. I hope that this now concentrates minds back in the UK parliament and if this does come again to the parliament, I hope people will realise that now we have to learn the lessons from this tragic attack and go after ISIS wherever we find them.”
But is bombing the answer? Do you think that ultimately there will be a need for British boots on the ground in Syria?
“I don’t think there is a need for British boots, there’s a need for boots on the ground though and there are boots already there. There are other countries such as some Arab countries which are willing to do that, but to do that they will need support and intelligence that we can provide and I think we can contribute through air power and that kind of intelligence support.”
Closer to home, I recently spoke to Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill who is very concerned about cuts to frontline police services. It is also expected that the Chancellor will announce further cuts to the police force of up to 20% on Wednesday. How can these cuts possibly be justified in the light of growing threats to home security? Aren’t we making the country more vulnerable at a time when perhaps more needs to be invested into policing?
“I would make two points. Firstly I don’t want to speculate on what the Chancellor will say so we will wait until Wednesday. On the issue of the police budgets in general and savings, what we’ve seen in the last five years is that the police budget, alongside other budgets have had to find savings and during that same time we have seen a 31% fall in reported crime in England and Wales. So it shows you it is possible to be more efficient and save money without hurting the fight against crime.”
Moving onto education and tuition fees, the student maintenance grant is going to be replaced by loans from 2016/17 meaning these will be repaid under the same terms as tuition fees. This will save the government 2.5 billion by 2020/21. What would you say to those who claim this will discourage students from poorer backgrounds accessing higher education?
“I’d say the same thing that we said a few years back when we increased the loans from £3000 to £9000 and introduced this current method of how they are paid back. You only pay back the loan once you earn over £21,000 and if you haven’t paid it after 30 years then it is written off and also it starts with a very low interest rate. This will be exactly the same format with the maintenance loans in future. There were a lot of people at that time that said that this will discourage students from poorer backgrounds and that is the last thing that anyone would have wanted. In fact, I want ways which will encourage more people from poorer backgrounds to apply and that’s exactly what happened.
“The proportion of students which went to university from poorer backgrounds has doubled from 9% to 18% despite the student loans and that’s because by having a loan system we were able to free up more money to focus on those students and help them in different ways and I think you have a situation now where you have more students going to university than at any other time in history full stop. Almost 500,000 last year and you have more from poorer backgrounds which I think is a great result.”
Building on this, with extra debt I worry that I won’t be able to afford my first house. Do you fear for future generations who will have even more debt?
“The good news is that banks don’t consider student loans as normal debt. The reason is because of their repayment terms and that you don’t start paying them back until you’ve earned a certain amount and it is eventually written off. It doesn’t get in the way of anyone who wants to apply for a mortgage post graduation.”
Onto the European Union, I have read that you are not worried or frightened about leaving the EU. Can you clarify your position please?
“I can – I think the most important thing now is that we get a reform. The best way to get that reform is to have this referendum. The whole cabinet is focused on getting that reform. I don’t think anyone can decide where they are going to be until you know what that final reform package looks like.”
Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davies claims that 60 MPs will rebel and vote for an exit if the PM fails to deliver the concessions he is asking for, do you think the EU referendum will do irreparable damage to the party?
“I think that the EU referendum is what the country wants. It’s not about the party – it’s about the country. That’s what they voted for and we will deliver that referendum. It’s been 40 years since the British people were asked about the relationship they want with Europe and the relationship today is fundamentally different to the one they voted for four decades ago. Not just the older generations need a say, but your generation needs a say! It’s one vote each, your vote will be as important as mine which is quite right. It’s your country and you’re the next generation.”
Now to your own aspirations, are you thinking of throwing your hat into the ring to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister?
“I don’t own a hat, I would like to keep my head warm but I don’t have a hat to throw into the ring.”
So you’re not considering it?
“I just don’t own a hat.”
Let’s imagine that you are the Prime Minister. If you had a magic wand what’s the one thing that you would change about Britain overnight?
“I won’t assume I’m PM because I’m not, but I can still answer this question. What would I change? I would like to see more and more people of disadvantaged backgrounds, maybe they’ve grown up with not much money and lots of challenges, get the opportunities that they deserve. What I mean by that is getting access to skills and training and universities and apprenticeships so that they can get into jobs which are often occupied by people who have had privilege on their side such as being a judge or a politician. I want to see more and more people with ordinary backgrounds in some of the top jobs in the country. We are heading that way as a country. If I had to summarise that I would say more social equality. We are the party for social equality and sometimes people challenge us on that and the best way to focus on that is to give a hand up, not handouts. What would you change about the country with a magic wand overnight?
I would lower tuition fees.
“How would you pay for that though, what would you cut, who’s taxes would you raise?”
This is why I am asking the questions and not answering them!
And to finish… Your life away from Politics. What hobbies have you got?
“Playing with my children. I’ve got four of them and that’s my number one thing away from politics.”
Your favourite film?
“It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The Bournemouth Rock would like to thank Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns for arranging this interview with Business Secretary Sajid Javid.