Tories' Green man

June 12, 1998

Education was not part of Damian Green's brief when he worked in the No 10 policy unit during John Major's premiership, writes Huw Richards.

It is an omission the Conservative MP for Ashford mildly regretted last week as he worked to master his new brief as further and higher education spokesman before making his debut with two days of debate on the Teaching and Higher Education Bill.

But it has left him with a clear view of the bill: "One thing it did teach me was how Whitehall works, and in particular to recognise a policy that is Treasury-driven, as this bill is."

It is the central problem facing the government, he says. "The government raised expectations in further and higher education that it can't satisfy unless it spends more."

Mr Green says the deep unhappiness about the government proposals on tuition fees and maintenance grants is clear in the academic community. But he is quick to accept that his party's standing with the academic community could scarcely be lower.

Economic issues have taken much of his time in the past year - he was an economics journalist before joining No 10 - but he also helped to revive the Conservative Academic Liaison Programme.

Having dealt with academics as a journalist, he says of them: "I was struck by how entrepreneurial they are: imaginative, forceful and extremely different from the people I remember teaching me," he says.

Academics too may find a Tory spokesman rather different from his predecessors. "I support the free market and high-quality social services, of which education is one of the most important."

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