Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, was pushed into position as Minister for Civil Society this week, after Brooks Newmark fell from grace just before the Tory Party Conference. But who is he, and should we welcome him?
Brooks Newmark, for all his naiive foolishness, at least has a personal passion for charities and the third sector. He has a keen interest in special needs education, poverty reduction and women’s issues (I’ll leave the jokes to you). He is involved in a number of charities and campaigns around education, play, special needs and lifelong illness, including A Partner in Education, Million Jobs Campaign, Farleigh Hospice, Get Kids Going!, and PARC.
As for Rob Wilson? Well, let’s only hope his remarks to the Conservative Party Conference yesterday are not an indication of his enthusiasm for the role: ‘This is a very important sector for the Prime Minister; he made me aware of that’. Oh dear; is he doing this under duress?Would he much rather be somewhere else?
And anyway, who could blame him? Why should he be pandering to the do-gooders when he could be helping to whip the economy into shape? He made his name as an entrepreneur, building small businesses: why can’t everyone be as commercially productive? He believes in education, presumably for creating hard-working, employable individuals (he has led two successful bids for new schools in his region, including Reading’s new University Technical College), and has little sympathy for the welfare state (he has voted strongly for cutting benefits).
He shares the Tory vision of a smaller state with more local accountability (and less cash; he voted strongly against funding local government). He’s very keen on academies and greater autonomy for schools, and for raising university tuition fees. He wants a smaller House of Commons and greater restrictions on charity campaigning.
Yes, you read that correctly: he wants greater restrictions on charity campaigning; he has voted strongly in favour of restricting charities’ ability to lobby Parliament. One wonders quite what sort of charity sector champion he will turn out to be.
His website boasts of the books he’s written, of how he’s campaigning for a third Thames bridge crossing and of how he’s fighting for Reading’s interests in the Crossrail extension; gov.uk lists his interests as crime, education and immigration. Neither give the remotest hint of an enthusiasm for civil society or the third sector.
With Rob Wilson at the Office for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark’s untimely departure may prove damaging to more than his own future. Let’s hope not.