Minister out of water

July 4, 1997

Huw Richards talks to the new education shadows as the Tories slide off the road

Being in opposition is still something of a culture shock for the Conservative party, and junior education spokesman Angela Browning admits that she is no exception.

"During a debate on the education bill I was making notes on what the various speakers were saying and thinking about how I would reply at the end of the debate. And then I realised that I wouldn't have to do it," she says.

Mrs Browning, 50, has spent three of her five years as an MP since first winning the seat of Tiverton and Honiton as a minister. While the BSE row raged she was in the distinctly hot seat of the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Like any politician she sees no advantages to being in opposition. But with the best part of five years before the next election, she and her colleagues are at least relieved of the pressure to create instant policy: "We will be listening, learning and developing policy as time goes on, but are not expecting to produce a very detailed agenda in the immediate future."

One factor in that policy development will be the Dearing report and government reaction to it. She will not be drawn on likely Conservative reactions, but notes: "I would like to see agreement on the view that university students should fully fund their own expenses while studying; the big issue is whether that should include a tuition element." She adds: "I do understand that there is a desperate need for a sense of stability over funding."

Her agriculture brief did bring her into contact with higher education, talking to veterinary colleges about the comparability of degrees across European countries. She can also point to past work in adult education, teaching cookery evening classes. Her rural constituency has made her aware of the problems facing colleges serving such areas.

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