Posted by: Nick Hillman | 20/10/2014

Three ways to win in 2015

This blog was originally founded in 2010, as part of that year’s general election campaign. When my successor as the Conservative candidate for Cambridge was selected in July 2014, I sought to give her some tips from my experience fighting the campaign there in 2010.

They were: fight from the centre; respond to vibrant civic life; and offer a powerful voice at Westminster. The full piece can be found on ConHome at:

Posted by: Nick Hillman | 16/10/2013

50th anniversary of major education report

There is, rightly, lots of interest at the moment in the 50th anniversary of the Robbins report on higher education, which was published on 23rd October 1963. The Social Market Foundation, the London School of Economics and the Institute of Education are all holding events next week to mark the date.

Half Our Future

But another major education report came out less than a week earlier – Half Our Future by the Newsom committee on 17th October 1963. It is essentially forgotten today and, even at the time, it secured little coverage compared to Robbins. Yet it is worth remembering too.

In many ways Robbins and Newsom should be considered together. While the Robbins report focussed on those on their way to higher education, the Newsom report provided a very important reminder that ‘pupils of average or less than average ability’ (to quote the terms of reference) deserved better as well.

The report was one of the things (though far from the only one) that set the scene for the raising of the school leaving age to 16. At the very beginning of the report, there is a poignant quote from a 15-year old: ‘I enjoyed my school life very much. I wanted to stay on, but there wasn’t any room.’

Few would disagree with Edward Boyle, the Minister of Education, who wrote in the Foreword, ‘The essential point is that all children should have an equal opportunity of acquiring intelligence, and of developing their talents and abilities to the full.’

Posted by: Nick Hillman | 11/05/2013

From grants for all to loans for all

Contemporary British History has recently published an article of mine on the history of student loans. It is available for free for a limited time at Otherwise, it is at:

It attempts to clear up some of the history, which is often misunderstood.

Among the points in the article are:

–the Treasury read the Robbins report as a proposal for student loans
–a Labour Cabinet of the late 1960s agreed to consider student loans
–the first education minister to consult openly on loans was Shirley Williams
–upfront tuition fees were abolished in 1977 (not as many books claim in 1962)
–the only post-war decade during which there were no upfront tuition fees for full-time, first-time undergraduate students was the Thatcherite 1980s
–the only post-war PM to have presided over a system with no maintenance grants was Tony Blair (1998-2004)

Student loans have proved controversial over the years. But the old system of grants was too expensive to enable a large number of students to attend university.

The piece also looks at the political consequences of student support changes, which are not as many people imagine.

For example, the Conservatives introduced maintenance loans in 1990 and won the subsequent general election and Labour introduced tuition fees in 1998 and, in 2003, announced they would be tripled but won both the subsequent general elections. The last two losing governments, Major’s and Brown’s, had both commissioned independent reports on higher education so lacked clear higher education policies.

Posted by: Nick Hillman | 22/04/2013

Running the Marathon


I completed all 26.2 miles of the London Marathon yesterday (which happened to be my birthday as well as that of 162 other runners). Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me.

Knowing I had raised over £100 per mile for the MS Trust really spurred me on. If it hadn’t been for that, the weather and the crowd’s support – including my family and friends – I’m not sure I would have finished.

It was even harder than I ever imagined. Of course, everyone knows it is physically demanding, even for a 5-hours 43-minutes slow coach like me. What was more surprising was that it was just as emotionally draining.

I think there are three reasons. First, having your name cheered by thousands of people who are there simply to will runners on really gets you going – especially when, after 18 miles or thereabouts, you flag but still have many miles left to do. Even if the runners respond to the support less there than at the start of the race, I found the cheers between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way round to be the most important of all. You’re just too exhausted to show your appreciation of them. One of the reasons the Marathon shows London at its best is that people come out – and stay out – to cheer on everyone, not just the elite runners.

The second reason why it is so emotional is the reasons people have for running, which are often displayed on their t-shirts for others to read. When you see someone running for a charity that helped their father who died 15 years ago to the day or when you see a couple running to support a hospital that cared for their baby who lived for just one month or when you see a group of young friends running in memory of another friend, you realise just how incredibly powerful a force for good the Marathon is. Personally, I was also struck by the elderly gentleman who was running slowly and determinedly in his 33rd London Marathon – that’s every single one.

Thirdly, there was the memory of the horror of the Boston bombings which were so fresh in everyone’s minds. The silence at the start of the race was incredibly moving and many runners amended their running vests to include the word ‘Boston’ somewhere, in addition to wearing the black ribbon we were all given (as part of the fantastically smooth organisation). As a student, I used to have a top which said ‘One World’ on it. Yesterday, it really did feel like there was one world and that it was out on the streets of London.

I’ve got double my original sponsorship target of £1,500 and am so grateful for everyone’s support. If you haven’t yet sponsored me for the brilliant MS Trust but meant to do so, then it’s not too late – see

I assure you the money will go to a very good cause.

Posted by: Nick Hillman | 28/03/2013

I’m not the most sporty of people but I do love a challenge. I once trekked up the highest mountain in Ethiopia and cycled through Zambia. As I discovered on those trips, to be meaningful a challenge really needs social benefits as well as personal ones.

That is why, on 21st April, I will be attempting to complete* the London Marathon for charity. I’m doing it for the MS Trust, which does so much to help people with the debilitating disease multiple sclerosis – for more information, see

Every time someone sponsors me, it makes the challenge a bit more real (and a bit more scary). But, most importantly, it helps to guarantee the funding of this medium-sized and very effective charity. Most people will know a person or a family affected by MS.

The MS Trust provides information, educates health professionals about what people with multiple sclerosis need and researches better management of MS. In short, there is support for everyone affected by MS.

I’m not going for a specific time or placing on the day but I’m determined to complete the Marathon. It’s going to be a gruelling way to spend my 41st birthday!

It would be fantastic if you felt able to sponsor me at

* NB ‘do’ not ‘run every step’

The Times Higher recently asked me to elaborate on a comment that I chose my university because of the local music scene.

They publish my piece in this week’s magazine, which can be read online here (though I recommend reading in hard copy if you can).

I loved my time at university but, in future, people filling in their UCAS forms will be able to make much more sophisticated decisions – thanks to the new Key Information Set being formally launched today. I wish it had existed when I was a school teacher and ran a pre-university course.

Last Thursday, I opposed the motion ‘This House believes that Britain is still a racist country’ at the Cambridge Union Society. My speech (minus the rhetorical flourishes and debating points that would be out of context here) is below. I am pleased to say that our opposition team, which included David Aaronavitch and David Goodhart, won.

Thank you for inviting me to speak in this important debate and thank you for breaking your busy revision schedules to be here.

There are some shocking statistics about the UK. If you Google ‘racist attacks’, you will find some horrific stories. According to the Institute of Race Relations, there have been around a hundred killings with a racial element since the Stephen Lawrence murder of 1993 – that’s five a year.

But there are lots of positive facts about our country too. For example, young people from black and minority ethnic groups are actually slightly more likely to go to university than young white people, even if they’re less likely to study at some of our oldest institutions. The UK has record proportions of mixed marriages – on some measures, more than in any other European country. Whole areas of life are completely colour-blind, such as pop music. And sport: just look at Lewis Hamilton or the Premier League – sorry none of us is Stan Collymore, who (according to the Union website) was due to be here tonight.

So we on this side of the debate are not claiming that racism does not exist. Rather, we are claiming that Britain has made real progress in tackling prejudice – and that we should not be characterised as a racist country.

As a former History teacher who has taken pupils around a concentration camp, I know the horrors racism causes.

But my own academic research has focused on British fascism in the 1950s. It’s a topic worthy of study because it was fascists like Oswald Mosley who were the first people to try and embed racism at the heart of modern British politics. More than anything my research proved to me that racism in British politics is the province of the fruitcakes and the loonies. Let me tell you about those I studied.

  • First, I looked at Arnold Leese, one of the leading British fascists, who taught his cat to give the fascist salute before eating.
  • Then, I looked at RK Jeffrey, who funded the establishment of the National Front. He survived on walnuts, which he kept in a bathtub in case of a world shortage.
  • And, finally, I looked at Colin Jordan, the British founder of the World Union of National Socialists, who in 1975 was arrested for shoplifting women’s underwear from Tesco’s in Leamington Spa.

Those who propose this motion are in effect claiming the views of such weirdos symbolise modern Britain. Well they don’t represent me and I hope they don’t represent you.

In 1968, Enoch Powell famously predicted there would be ‘rivers of blood’ flowing through Britain’s streets as a result of mass immigration. He found enormous support for what he said, and immediately became one of the most well-known and most popular politicians in the country. Thousands of workers flocked to Parliament to support him – and that doesn’t often happen to a Conservative. Powell even found support from the odd Afro-Caribbean migrant to the UK who claimed integration can not happen. But Enoch was wrong.

And everybody now knows he was wrong. No leading politician today would write a speech in which the argument is built around various quotes from racist letters. In a racist country, that would be lauded. Here, it would be career ending.

Yes, the English Defence League exist and, as I have written in the Cambridge News, they are the heirs of the National Front and the British National Party. But they represent nobody other than their tiny number of members. That’s why the recent EDL rally here in Cambridge was such a flop. Surely the proposition do not seriously believe the EDL are representative of Britain in this Olympic year as we get ready to host all the races of the world in London, a wonderfully multicultural city?

Sir Trevor Phillips, the Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, doesn’t think so. He has written in a national newspaper: ‘I believe that Britain is by far – and I mean by far – the best place to live in Europe if you are not white. That’s not just my view, it’s an empirical truth.’ And he goes on to show some of that evidence.

Do not think I am downplaying racism by saying it’s not as much a feature of modern Britain today as the proposition think it is. A few years ago, I visited Rwanda. I went to a technical school which had never actually opened as a school. Just before it was due to open thousands of Tutsis fled there during the genocide of 1994. 50,000 were killed. Only a handful of people survived, including the man who showed me round. Today, they leave the place as a monument to the dead and the rooms are piled high with the skeletons of those who died. I defy anyone who has seen that to be relaxed about racism. But it is because such examples of genocide are so horrific that we have to be careful about when and where we apply such terms.

When I stood in Cambridge in the 2010 general election, I was told incorrectly by two people that Conservatives flirt with racism in the European Parliament. The first was the Labour candidate who said it in this very chamber. On election day, our vote rose by 8% and theirs fell by 10%. The other person who came to Cambridge and accused Conservatives of flirting with racism was the columnist Johann Hari, who has since had to resign his job at the Independent for making things up.

They were wrong because I stood on a ticket which was proud of Cambridge’s diversity. This city is most successful where it is most diverse.

Take, Mill Road – the most cosmopolitan and most interesting street in Cambridge, with numerous independent shops, the mosque and a proper community spirit at events like the Winter Fair. I am delighted that Cambridge has recently elected Shapour Meftah, who runs a shop on Mill Road, to be a Conservative councillor.

Yesterday, I was reading a new book celebrating the 50th anniversary of Cambridge becoming the premier high-tech cluster in Europe. I was certain the book would have evidence of the multi-cultural nature of this great city because its success relies on attracting the brightest and best from all over the world. But nowhere in the book could I find a chapter dedicated to celebrating this diversity. It took a while for me to realise why. It’s because diversity is so embedded within Cambridge that it is taken completely for granted that success depends upon it.

A couple of weeks ago, on the same day that Cambridge was electing Councillor Meftah, London re-elected Boris, who celebrates the diversity of our capital, and rejected Ken, whose record is more questionable.

If, in those recent elections, the BNP had won seats, then perhaps I’d have to accept things are going in the wrong direction. But on the same day that Boris won, the BNP lost every single seat they were defending.

Do I think we have some real problems of prejudice? Yes

Do I think we live in a wholly racist country? No

And those who do are the doom mongers. We must not define ourselves by the fruitcakes and the weirdos. When you look in the mirror, do you see Enoch Powell and his rivers of blood or do you see a tolerant, welcoming and unprejudiced nation?

Posted by: Nick Hillman | 05/04/2012

Roll on 3rd May 2012

Readers in Cambridge may like to know that the full list of Cambridge City Council election candidates has recently been published.

There’s a strong field, with all three main parties standing in every set. The Greens are in most – surprisingly not all – too, and there’s a smattering of others in different wards. (The popular anti-party blogger Richard Taylor, who has been talking about standing for years, has once again not put his name forward, which is a shame.)

This election matters because it is a real opportunity to change the whole complexion of local politics in Cambridge, which has been a bit one-dimensional in recent years. There is a good chance that wards will change hands this time.

The Conservative candidates come from all sorts of backgrounds and have huge and varied experience between them. Come the election, they will be a formidable force holding the Council to account on behalf of all local residents.

I’ll be helping them when I can:

1. because the City Council needs to be held to account more closely – for example on spending taxpayers’ money;
2. because Cambridge residents deserve better representation than they have had in recent years – the current crop of councillors are quick to blame all problems on anyone but themselves; and
3. because I know the candidates personally so know how dedicated they are to doing an excellent job.

If you want to get involved, contact me via the website links and I’ll put you in touch with the local campaign team.

Posted by: Nick Hillman | 26/11/2011

Harold Wilson and independent schools

What’s the right boundary between state and private schools?

I’m pleased to see my 2010 article on the issue has now got free access at

For background on the piece, see

Posted by: Nick Hillman | 09/10/2011

Public schools, assisted places and the Labour Party

My new article on the Fleming report of 1944 has just been published by the History of Education, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

The Fleming report aimed at a closer relationship between independent boarding schools and the state by recommending state-funded boarding bursaries.

My article is, I think, the first to show that the prime mover behind the modest scheme of county scholarships that was set up was the Labour Minister of Education, Ellen Wilkinson – not, as is often supposed, the Conservative RAB Butler.


The experiment limped on for decades after her death but no other politician ever gave it a similar push. So there is an interesting contrast between ‘Red Ellen’, who is generally regarded as having been on the left of the Labour Party, and New Labour, which abolished assisted places in independent day schools.

My article can be accessed (at a cost to those without institutional log ins) here. The abstract is below.

‘This paper assesses the origins, conclusions and consequences of the Fleming Committee, which considered the relationship between Britain’s leading independentD boarding schools and the state. In 1944, the committee recommendded one-quarter of the places at these schools should be assigned to a national bursary scheme for children who might benefit from boarding. The author emphasises the role that Ellen Wilkinson played in implementing a Fleming-style scheme in the early years of the Attlee Government. Despite promises to the contrary, the Conservative Government that was elected in 1951 did not expand the scheme, which lingered on in a desultory form. Failure stemmed from a lack of political will, which was reinforced by a shortage of public finance, inconsistent support from independent boarding schools and local education authorities and problems over the selection of pupils.’

Anyone interested in this general topic might also be interested in another article of mine on the Public Schools Commission, as this new piece is a prequel to it, as well as a recent BBC Radio 4 programme.

Readers interested in higher education might also be interested to know that it was the same Section of the 1944 Education Act that enabled county scholarships at public schools that enabled local education authorities to pay higher education awards for maintenance and tuition fees.

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