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Cecil Parkinson dies at 84

The former Conservative Cabinet minister was once spoken of as a possible successor to Margaret Thatcher - but scandal ruined his hopes.

Lord Parkinson, who as Cecil Parkinson was one of Margaret Thatcher's closest political allies, has died following a long battle with cancer.

Parkinson served as Conservative party chairman from 1981 to 1983, as Paymaster-General from 1982 and in Thatcher's War Cabinet during the Falklands War. Following the Tory landslide in the 1983 general election, he was promoted to the Department of Trade and Industry, now BIS.

His tenure at the DTI was shortlived, however, and he was forced to resign just four months after the election when it came to light that his secretary, Sara Keays, was carrying his child. The affair exposed Parkinson to particular criticism due to his longstanding opposition to abortion. In her memoirs, Sara Keays claimed Parkinson had "begged" her to get an abortion and "haggled over every pound" of child support.

Parkinson obtained an injunction barring any mention of his child, Flora Keays. The terms of the injunction barred his daughter from appearing in school photographs and barred her from participating in school activities, such were the burdens placed upon her schools to maintain her privacy. Despite the injunection,  his career never quite recovered from the affair. Having been tipped as a potential successor to Thatcher, he spent four years on the backbenches before returning to the Cabinet in 1987, this time as Secretary of State for Energy, before moving to Transport in Margaret Thatcher's penultimate reshuffle. He resigned along with her in November 1990 and became a life peer in 1992. Following John Major's surprise election win that same year, he became the first heavyweight Conservative politician to appear on Have I Got News For You.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The price of accessing higher education

Should young people from low income backgrounds abandon higher education, or do they need more support to access it? 

The determination of over 400,000 young people to go into higher education (HE) every year, despite England having the most expensive HE system in the world, and particularly the determination of over 20,000 young people from low income backgrounds to progress to HE should be celebrated. Regrettably, there are many in the media and politics that are keen to argue that we have too many students and HE is not worth the time or expense.

These views stem partly from the result of high levels of student debt, and changing graduate employment markets appearing to diminish the payoff from a degree. It is not just economics though; it is partly a product of a generational gap. Older graduates appear to find it hard to come to terms with more people, and people from dissimilar backgrounds to theirs, getting degrees.  Such unease is personified by Frank Field, a veteran of many great causes, using statistics showing over 20 per cent of graduates early in their working lives are earning less than apprentices to make a case against HE participation. In fact, the same statistics show that for the vast majority a degree makes a better investment than an apprenticeship. This is exactly what the majority of young people believe. Not only does it make a better financial investment, it is also the route into careers that young people want to pursue for reasons other than money.

This failure of older "generations" (mainly politics and media graduates) to connect with young people’s ambitions has now, via Labour's surprising near win in June, propelled the question of student finance back into the spotlight. The balance between state and individual investment in higher education is suddenly up for debate again. It is time, however, for a much wider discussion than one only focussed on the cost of HE. We must start by recognising the worth and value of HE, especially in the context of a labour market where the nature of many future jobs is being rendered increasingly uncertain by technology. The twisting of the facts to continually question the worth of HE by many older graduates does most damage not to the allegedly over-paid Vice Chancellors, but the futures of the very groups that they purport to be most concerned for: those from low income groups most at risk from an uncertain future labour market.

While the attacks on HE are ongoing, the majority of parents from higher income backgrounds are quietly going to greater and greater lengths to secure the futures of their children – recent research from the Sutton Trust showed that in London nearly half of all pupils have received private tuition. It is naive in the extreme to suggest that they are doing this so their children can progress into anything other than higher education. It is fundamental that we try and close the social background gap in HE participation if we wish to see a labour market in which better jobs, regardless of their definition, are more equally distributed across the population. Doing this requires a national discussion that is not constrained by cost, but also looks at what schools, higher education providers and employers can do to target support at young people from low income backgrounds, and the relative contributions that universities, newer HE providers and further education colleges should make. The higher education problem is not too many students; it is too few from the millions of families on average incomes and below.

Dr. Graeme Atherton is the Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON). NEON are partnering with the New Statesman to deliver a fringe event at this year's Conservative party conference: ‘Sustainable Access: the Future of Higher Education in Britain’ on the Monday 2nd October 2017 from 16:30-17:30pm.