MP for Windsor
Working Hard For You
Conservatives are social reformers

As a long-standing advocate of social mobility I was cheered by the message at this years’ conference.

The Prime Minister laid out the moral mission for Conservatives over the next Parliament in his keynote address.

The message was clear and unequivocal: if you want something done about the challenges facing society, then the Conservatives are the only party for you.

As Conservatives, we are determined to tackle the complex social and economic issues of our time. Whether it’s housing, prisons, family stability, the care system or social mobility, we need to get to work, even if other politicians and political parties are reluctant to express their views through fear of being exposed as out of kilter with the sentiments of modern Britain.

The Conservative party has a proud heritage of social reformers from Disraeli’s “One Nation” conservatism to Macmillan’s housebuilding and Thatcher’s reshaping of the economy. We have a strong tradition of reforming and strengthening society. It should be no different today.

Prison doesn’t rehabilitate well enough. The care system does not, as I have long argued, look after children well enough. The housing market seems unaffordable for aspiring homeowners and hardworking young people often can’t get an early foothold on the career ladder despite their education.

Over the coming months, it will be important to set out how these reforms will work in practice. And the proof will undoubtedly be in the pudding.

But one thing is for sure, Labour has vacated the moderate politics of social justice to engage in catastrophic, destructive politics that have failed time and time again not just in the UK, but around the world from Venezuela to the USSR. They’ve learned nothing. Whether it’s housing, benefits or the care system, their answer is always to throw more money at it than the country earns and to breed state dependency.

The time has come to prove once and for all that only the Conservatives can provide the strong economy and secure country that we need to take on the injustices of society. Whether it is removing the obstacles to opportunity, raising wages, ending discrimination or extremism, the Conservatives will take on the big issues and continue to build a healthy and prosperous society.

It is a big ask but it will be worth it for the millions of hardworking people, young and old, who want to feel they are being dealt a better hand than in the past.

The leaders’ debate showed that only the Conservatives have a credible plan

As the election campaign kicked off, it was fascinating to watch the seven main party leaders set out their positions in the leaders’ debates. For those of us living in England, it demonstrated a clear choice between the coherent economic competence of the Conservatives on the one hand, and the chaos of the other parties.

It was clear throughout that Conservatives have a plan to get rid of the deficit, by bearing down on departmental spending and further reducing welfare, so that work really pays.

Yes, we are still spending more than we can afford as a country, but thanks to tough decisions taken by Conservatives in Government, the deficit has been cut by half in percentage terms in this parliament, and will be eliminated in the next. Conservatives believe it’s morally wrong to leave huge debts behind for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to pay off.

The only way to build a prosperous future that works for everyone and provide the public services we all rely on is with more jobs and a growing economy. That’s why it’s so important that we stick to the economic plan that has made us the fastest growing major economy. It is striking to note that we have created 2 million jobs which is more than any other European country. And let’s not forget that, for all the challenges facing it, the NHS has been voted the best health service in the world.

The other parties showed that they simply don’t have the plans to deliver on growth, jobs and taxes. From what I can fathom, Labour will cost the average family about £3,000 more in taxes over the next parliament, levy a tax on homes in the South-East to give more money to Scotland and has no strategy for cutting the deficit. A Labour Government, in all likelihood propped up by the SNP, would mean more taxes, higher unemployment, and unaffordable borrowing.

The other parties have no sensible plans for deficit reduction, job creation or economic growth and none of them will be willing or able to give people their say in an in/out referendum on our EU membership other than the Conservatives.

So, I guess, if you fancy a punt based on reckless promises then a vote for one of the other parties might be in order.  But if you want a bright future with the security of a grown-up Government that sticks to a sensible economic plan that’s putting people into work and our country back on top, then I’d encourage to vote Conservative on the 7th of May.


Non-white voters may hold the key to the next general election

On Friday I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the increasing number of non-white people “deserting” Labour – and choosing to vote Conservative.

That’s one reason why I’m optimistic about the Conservatives’ prospects in 2015, and beyond. There’s justification to believe that over the next few years more and more non-white people will start to naturally align themselves with the Conservatives. Check out my blog post on the Huffington Post.


Britain must have an EU referendum before the next election

I believe there should be an EU referendum before the next General Election. It’s in our national interest to resolve this issue as soon as possible to create the certainty and stability our country needs for the future.

Only by setting an early date can we kick-start EU renegotiation talks and give the British people what they so clearly want – a say on our country’s future with Europe.

That’s why tomorrow I will be tabling an amendment to the European Union (Referendum) Bill to bring the date of the referendum forward to October 2014.

The political establishment are naturally hesitant but we have nothing to fear by giving people a chance to have their say, either way, on our future relationship with Europe.

Whatever Labour or the Conservatives want for the future of our country, it would be best to resolve the issue sooner rather than later.

There are sound reasons for holding an EU referendum before the next Election.

The British public want a referendum

First, the public clearly want an EU referendum. According to a Populus poll, more than eight in ten people want a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU; half of the population want it immediately and a further 33 per cent want it within the ‘next few years’.

This is no great surprise. People have had no say on our continued membership of Europe since 1975.

Anyone under the age of 56 has not had a chance to voice an opinion through the ballot box. That’s about 33 million people between the ages of 18 and 56 – not far off the size of Canada’s population.

People want a referendum because of the EU’s impact on their own lives. Some people want out because they want Britain to have more control over immigration, regulation and our legal system and believe it’s the EU’s fault that we don’t.

Others believe we are best served by remaining part of the EU and working with our EU partners to gently move the agenda in one direction or another. Everybody is unsure about the future. What unites everyone is the desire to remove the current uncertainty.


But why 2014? The Prime Minister says we are going to have an EU referendum in 2017. Why not just wait until then?

The fact is, the British people are not convinced there will be a referendum at all if we wait until after the next General Election. So many things can change.

They don’t understand why we can’t have one right away – and that makes them suspicious. Many people think delaying the vote is just a tactic to allow all the political leaders to kick the can even further down the road.

An early vote will kick-start renegotiation talks 

Secondly, I believe it’s vital to set a date before the next Election. An early referendum will kick-start the renegotiation process today.

It will strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in those negotiations. Right now, EU officials are stalling that process and waiting for the result of the 2015 Election.

They are hoping any new government will either be unable or unwilling to hold a referendum. But once an early date is set, EU countries will know that the British people will get an early vote no matter what.

They will need to offer tangible changes to realign our relationship sooner rather than later if they want to convince the British public to support continued membership.

Business needs certainty

Thirdly, businesses want an EU referendum because uncertainty is bad for business. Investment decisions are on hold pending the 2015 Election result.

Even if the result leads to a Conservative-led government, there will be further uncertainty about what will be renegotiated with Europe, uncertainty over the 2017 referendum result and uncertainty over the implementation of that result.

We cannot just leave things as they are. As John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), says, the UK cannot ignore the issue of our relationship with Europe: ‘For the quiet majority of companies, the status quo is not an option. Ministers must pursue reform and renegotiation as a priority.’

In fact, in a BCC poll, nearly 77 per cent of businesses supported a referendum, 33 per cent felt it should be held  before 2017 and 43 per cent were happy to have a referendum after negotiations.

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, is equally candid: ‘In too many areas, Europe has lost its way.

Its regulatory and legislative output ties up the efforts of small and medium-sized businesses, efforts which could  otherwise be spent on innovation, expansion and investment.

The financial crisis, combined with some very real concerns about the politics of Europe, has presented this country with an opportunity to question the foundations of our EU membership.’

Political parties

Many MPs from across all the main parties want an EU referendum in 2014. But for the Conservative Party, I believe the dangers of waiting are significant.

We can beat Labour on the economy in a straight fight but the EU issue is one which has dogged us for years and now is the time to tackle it head-on.

The Labour Party is equally divided on EU attitudes and membership and would no doubt find it a welcome relief  to have the issue put to bed before 2015.

A proper response  to populism

I think people understand the argument that if you vote Conservative you will get a referendum and if you vote Labour you won’t.

But we must not rely too heavily on the belief that the promise of a referendum will persuade people to vote Conservative nor trust the Labour Party not to change its position.

In reality, the British people are unsure whether the Conservative leadership would be able to stick to its promise of holding a referendum after the Election, especially if in coalition once again.

It seems to me that if we don’t hold the referendum before 2015, large numbers of people will continue to vote UKIP whatever happens – and if they do, there is a distinct danger that Labour will gain a majority and we will never see a referendum at all.

Protest votes are understandable mid-term, but mainstream politicians continue to underestimate and dismiss the power and significance of populism – currently expressed in the form of UKIP votes. Because at the heart of a populist movement is a legitimate concern unacknowledged by the political establishment.

By holding an early EU referendum, we would have recognised, embraced and addressed those concerns.

An early EU referendum would resolve the issue for all political parties as well as the British people. And for my party, I believe it will reunite the wider Conservative family so that we can win convincingly in 2015.

Bigger than party politics  – time to resolve our constitutional challenges

But at the end of the day, this issue is bigger than party politics. Let this be the parliament in which we settle our constitutional challenges.

We have dealt with the AV polling system and the elections for the House of Lords; we will have dealt with the UK/Scottish issue.

We must build on this new parliamentary confidence in dealing with age-old constitutional issues and complete the process with an EU referendum.

It is in the national interest to deliver a  stable country for the future.

To achieve the land of opportunity – which entails dealing with welfare, crime, immigration, business regulation and so many other vital issues – we must urgently resolve our relationship with Europe and that should not wait until 2017.

Whether we are in or out after an EU referendum, I believe  we can be a great, outward- looking nation, full of self- confidence. Now is the time to resolve this challenge.

It is time for the British people to finally have their say.


United, the Conservatives can deliver victory

With Ed Miliband’s leadership ratings in the deep freeze and Labour’s dire mid-term polling figures, it is easy to forget that an unthinkable Labour Party reoccupation of Downing Street is a distinct possibility. This is a deeply depressing thought when the country is just now showing signs of recovering from their last economic mess.

This risk must sharpen our minds. It must bring conservative-leaning people together. Whatever the differences on the centre-right, we cannot allow a Labour-led government to crash our economy, undo our good progress on immigration and make enemies of competitive British businesses and wealth creators, which are driving this recovery. We certainly cannot allow our country to return to the tax and spend, big state policies that brought our country to its knees in the first place. Above all, we must be absolutely certain that the British people get their say in an EU referendum sooner rather than later.

The economic recovery is fragile. We are still at risk of a market shock. It has taken a lot of hard work to restore investor confidence in the UK and avoid the overspending and economic collapse of Greece and others. The deficit, unemployment and immigration are all down while growth, business activity and job creation rates are picking up.

A Balls/Milliband Labour government in 2015 would trash this hard-won momentum. That is why all Conservatives must come together to make sure that the hard work and difficult decisions of the last three years are not put to waste. Now is the time to focus again on the Labour Party and its plans for state control, paternalism and socialism.

The Economy

First, the economy: These last three years have been a success not only because the Conservative-led Coalition stabilised the economy and cut the deficit down to size, but because the Government started the process of rebalancing the economy away from the bloated public sector. It is a testament to this programme’s success that UK private sector employment is now at an all-time high.

Britain became great due to its enterprising entrepreneurs – that is something all Conservatives recognise. Conservatives know that people with vision and determination should have the opportunity to realise their ideas. We know it’s wrong for their ambitions to be blunted by a state that takes away huge chunks of their hard-earned money, chokes them in unnecessary regulation and clogs up the free-market with state monopolies.

But the Labour Party has an unhealthy obsession with the state. They believe that the Government can and should solve all of our problems, acting like an overbearing friend who knows best, sniping and telling you what to do from the sidelines. That’s why the Labour Party can never be trusted with the economy again. In its march to solve problems, it will build giant government departments that suck up taxpayers’ money, while ignoring those people who actually use our public services. Members of the public will be pushed around like play pieces, leading to tragedies like Mid-Staffordshire.

A big state creates big problems and costs big money. Judging from what I hear in Parliament, the Labour Party appears to have learned nothing from its mistakes. The Shadow Chancellor has finally been forced to admit that the economy is growing again – at one of the fastest rates in the OECD – but we must realise that he has his mind on other things. He sees growth as an opportunity to hike taxes on our businesses so that his ‘big state’ can solve all the problems.

The welfare state

Second, the welfare state: Under three successive Labour governments, we watched as the Government doled out handouts left, right and centre and bred state-dependency. At the same time, as unemployment benefits were ramped up, Gordon Brown introduced tax credits to buy off middle-class voters. Not only was this a costly administrate nightmare, but it also created perverse incentives.

People were left to languish on benefits because work didn’t pay, while others were lost in mountains of benefits paperwork – young businesspeople and elderly individuals were the most obvious victims. It is devastating to hear that 1 in 3 poor pensioners are not registered for their state pension top-up, probably because they, like most of us, cannot make head or tail of the system. So it is no surprise that inequality peaked under the last Labour government.

Thankfully, Iain Duncan Smith has begun to clear up the welfare mess. The Conservatives have started rolling out Universal Credit which pools a whole battery of complicated benefits into a single payment that makes sure that you’re always better off in work. He has also introduced a new single-tier pension that gets rid of all the outdated and complex elements of the current system. There will be teething problems with this heroic clean-up job, but we must stick by Iain Duncan Smith as he completes his difficult work.

Immigration and the EU

Finally, there’s immigration and Europe. What would a Labour government do if it came to power? Nobody really knows. Miliband has already admitted that Labour “got it wrong” when it estimated that only 13,000 people would come to the UK and net migration peaked at an eye watering 252,000 instead. There is more to be done, but under the careful eye of Theresa May, immigration has now fallen to its lowest levels in a decade with net migration from outside the European Union at its lowest level for 14 years.

But while the Coalition continues to crack down on Labour’s rubber-stamped bogus colleges, the two Eds have been playing policy dodgems. It would be a mistake to give them the keys to our borders again – last time they simply left the doors open. One thing is certain: Labour will have to tackle our relationship with Europe. But while the Conservatives have guaranteed this country a referendum by 2017, the Labour leadership are engaged in political infighting.

With the centre-right united we can win

The centre-right conservative family is in good health. But it needs a family reunion. We must do all we can to bring together people who may have voted UKIP, Labour or LibDem, or withheld their vote in the recent past. We must keep the doors open. It is our job as Conservative MPs and as party members and activists to do our bit.

This is why the Conservative Renewal Conference last Saturday was just a great event. It was a forum for respectful debate, where Conservative politicians, thinkers and activists could explore new ideas and policies proposals. This is the type of open and frank discussion between all levels of party supporters that we need to have, if we’re going to defeat Labour in 2015.

I have no doubt that if all conservative-thinking people were united behind the Conservative Party we can deliver an EU referendum, win in 2015 and continue the painstaking but rewarding work of getting our country back on track.