Chris Skidmore appointed UK government universities minister

Historian backed Remain in EU referendum but is regarded as an ultra-loyalist

December 5, 2018
Chris Skidmore

Chris Skidmore has been appointed the UK government’s new universities and science minister, succeeding Sam Gyimah, who resigned in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Mr Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood in Gloucestershire, comes from the pro-free market wing of the Conservative Party and is a member of the Free Enterprise Group.

He was one of the five Tory MPs, including Dominic Raab and Liz Truss, who authored Britannia Unchained in 2012. The book, which advocated labour market deregulation and cuts to welfare spending, attracted controversy over its claim that British workers were “among the worst idlers in the world”.

Mr Skidmore, a University of Oxford graduate, is the author of several books on the Tudor monarchs and formerly taught history part-time at the University of Bristol.

He was constitution minister between July 2016 and January 2018, before losing the post in a reshuffle. He then served as a Conservative vice-chair for policy.

Mr Skidmore backed Remain in the European Union referendum but is regarded as an ultra-loyalist. Backing Ms May’s proposed withdrawal deal in next week’s crucial vote will be the number one requirement of the new appointee.

As universities minister, Mr Skidmore’s key priority will be the ongoing review of post-18 education in England, led by Philip Augar, and helping to shape the government’s response to the review. Publication of the Augar review has been delayed to take account of a review of the treatment of student loans in government accounts by the Office for National Statistics, to be published on 17 December.

As minister, Mr Skidmore will also play a part in the UK’s negotiations over whether it joins the EU’s next research programme – which begins in 2021 after the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU – as an associate member.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and a former adviser to Lord Willetts in his time as a Conservative universities minister, said: “Chris’ impressive bibliography, his past experiences elsewhere in Whitehall and his firm loyalty to his party – when such loyalty is in short supply – make him look a pretty good fit for the vacant post.

“The number one challenge he faces is getting to grips with his brief before the Augar review lands on his desk. He’ll also need to become an expert in accounting over the next fortnight, given the forthcoming ONS review. And, if he wants the confidence of the sector, he’ll need to steel himself for renewed battles with the Home Office.”

In December 2017, the Daily Mirror reported that while at Oxford, Mr Skidmore was a guitarist in a band whose songs included a reference to a sexual act with the Queen Mother “just weeks after she died”.

“The lurid song was just one of a string of eye-popping performances credited to Chris Skidmore’s group – including I Wanna be Fellated in Public, I’ve Gotta Big Willy, I’m Glad I’m Not Obese, God Hates Puffs and Women Are Crap,” the newspaper said.

The band, called Bob Nylon and the Elastic Band, also had a song called Oxford Reject, the lyrics of which included “hey Oxford reject, you’re always gonna be a reject, you’re still a reject in my eyes”, the newspaper added.

Mr Skidmore told the newspaper: “Unfortunately, I cannot turn back the clock and undo what has happened when I was at university, and I wholeheartedly apologise for any offence caused.

“I certainly do not believe any of the joke lyrics, and I absolutely renounce them now.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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