THE Prime Minister battled through losing her voice, an interruption from a prankster, and the set collapsing behind her to deliver an impassioned, if croaky, speech at the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday, during which she urged colleagues to reignite the “British dream”.
Speaking of her own family’s rise from domestic servants two generations ago to Prime Minister today, Mrs May said that renewing the “dream of progress between the generations” was why she was in politics.
Mrs May announced a series of policies intended to increase social mobility. These included a modest increase to the Government’s fund for council homes; more money for the Help to Buy scheme; capping university fees at their present rate, and raising the threshold when people must begin repaying them; an independent review of discrimination in mental-health legislation; and shifting to presumed consent for organ donation.
During a fringe meeting hosted by the Conservative Christian Fellowship, government ministers, past and present, were repeatedly challenged over arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The Government is reported to have approved £3-billion worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia over the past three years. It has been alleged that these weapons have been used in the civil war in Yemen, which has killed at least 10,000 people and displaced three million more (News, 16 December 2016).
JESSICA METHERINGHAMBeyond the fringe: to mark National Quaker Week, Manchester Quakers held a silent vigil outside their meeting house, near to the Conservative Party Conference, on Sunday
Rory Stewart, a joint Minister of State for the Department for International Development (DfID) and Minister of State for the Foreign Office, and Sir Desmond Swayne, who was Minister of State at the DfID from 2014 to 2016, were challenged by the audience on the part that the UK was playing in the conflict.
“Yes, of course, we are involved, and the question of our moral responsibility for the arms trade is a really important one,” Mr Stewart said. “I don’t think, though, Yemen is going to be solved by that [ending UK arms contracts].” Instead, he blamed the failure of international institutions to get to grips with what he called “a world of chaos”.
The United Nations, and the international community, did not have the knowledge or the authority to solve crises in Yemen, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Burundi, or Ukraine, or many others, he said.
Sir Desmond told the event that, if he believed that withdrawing Saudi arms sales would “relieve the suffering in Yemen, I would immediately pull that lever. But I don’t believe that.” He argued that withdrawal would lead to “consequences in terms of our loss of influence in what is an unstable but increasingly important region”.
He continued: “I recognise, when I say my prayers at night, that there is an issue here with which I am not comfortable. But that is the best answer I can give you.”
The director of Conservative Friends of International Development, Theodora Clarke, told the meeting: “If you look at other countries like America, which have maybe taken a step back under their new administration, DfID has such an important job. We need to step up to the plate.”