THERESA MAY is attempting to ram through a £27billion cash boost for the education budget in her final weeks in No10, prompting a major row with senior ministers who believe it is an attempt to bind Boris Johnson’s hands.
The Prime Minister is demanding a three-year funding settlement for schools and teachers as part of a bid to shore up her “legacy”, following a separate funding increase for the NHS last year. She was preparing to seek Cabinet approval for the plan as soon as Tuesday, with Government sources insisting that she “is still Prime Minister” and “education is very high on her list of priorities”.
The move is being fiercely resisted by the Treasury amid claims it would be “immoral”, as the commitment could limit the ability of Mrs May’s successor to deliver on their own pledges.
“It really has to be a decision for the next person,” said a Whitehall figure. “It is just not moral for the PM to make this commitment.”
The disclosure came as Mr Johnson set out his intention to pursue a “bluecollar conservatism agenda” in government “particularly in relation to supporting schools, police and other public services”.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary who was eliminated from the leadership race last week after running on a “blue collar” ticket, reveals that she will endorse Mr Johnson – citing today’s pledge and the former foreign secretary’s “promise to deliver Brexit on Oct 31, deal or no deal”.
Mr Johnson and the remaining contenders are attempting to court the support of Matt Hancock, Andrea Leadsom and Mark Harper, who also dropped out of the race last week. In other developments:
Mr Johnson told Conservative activists at a hustings in London yesterday that party members must have a “proper vote” between the final two candidates, after The Daily Telegraph revealed a plan, hatched in the whips’ office, for his name alone to go forward for a “confirmatory” vote by members.
Amid frantic texts and calls between contenders, some supporters of Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, were pushing him to support Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, on a “joint ticket” if he failed to gain the 33 votes needed to make it through the second round of voting on Tuesday. Other supporters of Mr Javid want him to back Mr Johnson.
In a joint article for this newspaper, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and Matthew Elliott, the former chief executive of the official Vote Leave campaign who is now running the Home Secretary’s bid, state that the Tory Party must “go beyond” its base to win an election, insisting that Mr Javid “can reach fresh eyes and ears in a way that other candidates simply cannot”.
Michael Gove told yesterday’s hustings that he planned to scrap business rates for small businesses.
Mrs May’s proposed boost for education amounts to around £7billion a year on resources, including staff, and £2 billion per year on capital expenditure, such as books and building repairs. It would not require legislation and is the biggest of a series of “legacy projects” she is attempting to secure before leaving No10. “The Treasury is digging in,” an ally said.
One Cabinet minister said their understanding was that the Prime Minister was attempting to “stitch up” a deal with the Treasury and then “bounce” ministers into signing it off ahead of a public announcement.
“It looks like a desperate attempt to
‘It really has to be a decision for the next person. It is just not moral for the PM to make this commitment’ rescue her reputation. This is exactly the way Mrs May has operated as Prime Minister – not least on Brexit.”
They added: “There should be a proper process of discussions with other departments that could be losing out as a result of the spending. Those discussions have not been taking place. It is being done secretly.”
As the row has intensified, Mrs May and Gavin Barwell, her chief of staff, have called on ministers to take her side against the Treasury. One source in another department said Treasury officials “hated” the idea of a major one-off spending commitment ahead of the crossWhitehall spending review due later this year.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was said by another source to have insisted that the decision over the funding should be a decision for the next prime minister.
A No10 source described the figures for the proposed spending as “speculation”.
Welcoming Ms McVey’s endorsement, Mr Johnson said: “Esther ran a great campaign with a positive message for the UK, especially the communities abandoned by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the Midlands and the North.
“She’s right to be proud of our timeless values, as I would be as prime minister. She has set out clearly the blue-collar conservatism agenda – particularly in relation to supporting schools, police and other public services. This is something I’ve already signalled I want to take forward in government, with my pledge to ensure proper secondary school funding across the board.”Tonight, five of the remaining leadership contenders, although not Mr Johnson, will take part in a televised debate on Channel 4.