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Business secretary Vince Cable loses seat

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It was a night of wildly differing outcomes for the key figures in FE policy in the general election.

Business secretary Vince Cable was the highest profile Liberal Democrat casualty on a night when the Tories’ coalition partners took a hammering in the polls.

Dr Cable had held his Twickenham seat since 1997; even in the most pessimistic forecasts he was widely expected to survive a collapse in the Lib Dem vote.

But a majority of 12,000 in 2010 was not enough to cushion the party’s former deputy leader: he lost the south-west London constituency to his Conservative opponent by around 2,000 votes, in a defeat that may bring an end to his political career.

Dr Cable was credited with prescience in predicting the global financial crisis of 2007. When he was his party’s acting leader, he memorably described Gordon Brown’s “remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean”.

By contrast, the Tory minister for FE and skills, Nick Boles, increased his share of the vote and his majority as David Cameron defied the polls to lead his party to an overall majority.

Mr Boles held his Grantham and Stamford constituency, one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, with a majority just 11 short of 19,000, winning more than 50 per cent of the vote.

He has been in post for less than a year, admitting he knew “nothing” about the sector during his first parliamentary appearance as FE minister. In his 10 months in the job he announced plans to double the number of traineeships.

FE did not play a prominent part in the election campaign but the Conservative manifesto set out proposals to increase the number of apprenticeships and involve employers more closely in developing FE courses.

“We will continue to replace lower-level classroom-based Further Education courses with high-quality apprenticeships that combine training with experience of work and a wage,” the manifesto said.

A Conservative government would continue to improve FE through the network of national colleges, publish more earnings and destination data for FE courses, and require more employer accreditation of courses, the manifesto added.

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