Vice-chancellor steps in as minister resigns

Sir Anthony Seldon, right, with Dr Philip Smith MBE
Sir Anthony Seldon, right, with Dr Philip Smith MBE

Vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, Sir Anthony Seldon, stepped in at the last minute to address an audience of Milton Keynes business leaders, after a government minister resigned.

Government changes in the wake of the Brexit vote saw skills minister Nick Boles MP resign from his post just hours before he was due to speak at an MK Business Leaders Partnership dinner.

Into his place stepped Sir Anthony, an eminent political historian, commentator and author of acclaimed books on David Cameron, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill’s time in No 10.

Sir Anthony gave a ‘behind closed doors’ insight into three weeks in British politics, “the like of which we have never seen before,” he said.

The theme of Sir Anthony’s impromptu talk was New Beginnings, which he said should include Milton Keynes as it shows more promise than any other city in the UK, straddling what he called the “powerhouse” corridor between London and the north and at the centre of the developing Oxford-Cambridge corridor.

But, with his knowledge of Westminster and Whitehall, it was his candid analysis of the new beginning with a new prime minister and cabinet that absorbed his audience.

He described Theresa May as “tireless and calm”.

As home secretary, she had one of the most challenging of roles, he said, and her strategy now is clearly to keep the Conservative party together by bringing all elements within the cabinet.

Sir Anthony said every new prime minister faces problems and their arrival begins with high hopes. “It’s perhaps like watching the England football team go into a major tournament. We just know that it really will all work out this time – and then we go out at the quarter final stage.

“The institutional problems facing the country are enormous and the biggest is the economy and the likely impact of Brexit, even if we have a soft landing.”

Thanking Sir Anthony, Dr Philip Smith MBE said: “His insight and experience of the intrigues of political life during these momentous times has been really fascinating.”