Candidate for Windsor
Working Hard For You
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.

 

A lesson from South Shields – why we need to legislate for an EU referendum

Yesterday I went to South Shields to support Karen Allen, our candidate in the by-election prompted by the resignation of David Miliband.  We couldn’t have a better candidate. She was born and brought up in the area, and I even had the chance to meet her parents who were active on the campaign trail. Above, all she’s a dedicated candidate who is passionate about her area and the Conservative cause.

There was a wonderful spirit amongst the volunteers on the day, including Emma Pidding and Charles Heslop, President of the National Conservative Convention. It was great to have the opportunity to listen to the voters – they are not hostile, it’s just that they need to see us, hear more from us and find out what we’re all about once again.

Voters in South Shields want the same things as everyone else – they want jobs, a top-class educational system and more opportunities to better their lives. I spoke to a taxi driver about the issue of uncontrolled immigration. He wasn’t negative, but he did feel things were out of control and that politicians weren’t doing enough to help the situation. I spoke to stall holders in the market who just wanted the economy to pick up so they could make ends meet for themselves.

Even if we don’t win seats like this now, or in 2015, our party must ensure the Conservative message resonates all over the country, not just in the affluent parts of the South of England. It’s in areas like South Shields that we should be making headway.

I don’t believe in no-go areas for the Conservative party. If we treat some areas of the country as a lost cause; if we make assumptions based on prejudice, we don’t deserve to win the next election. We must be unafraid to speak to and welcome voters of all persuasions, wherever they live.

It is the old-style politics of ‘your area, my area’ that’s our enemy; the old way of dividing the country into left and right. We must certainly never criticise voters for their decision to support others in the past – we must be strong enough to accept that perhaps it’s our fault that we failed to engage and convince them. I’m optimistic we can win over constituencies like South Shields in time, but only if we have the message and the confidence to engage.

Having spoken to one or two UKIP campaigners in South Shields, it seems to me that the only way forward is if we acknowledge the way people really feel about immigration and Europe, and gain enough credibility that they trust us to deliver the referendum after robust negotiations. If we’re serious, we must bring the legislation that enables a referendum before parliament sooner rather than later. Even if Labour and Lib Dem MPs vote against it, the British people will know we’re serious. Otherwise constituencies like South Shields will never take us seriously.

I want the party to start loving business more, helping small and big business to prosper, hire staff and deliver the economic growth we need; particularly in the North given the previous levels of state dependency. I’m pushing for more help – in the form of lower taxes and fewer regulations – to boost businesses and industry in every area of the country. What we need is for new and established businesses to start taking on more staff – that way there’s a bright future not just for individuals but for the whole country.

 

What we can learn from Eastleigh

As a grassroots activist for 25 years, the Conservative Party is my home. I know the hard work activists and volunteers do behind the scenes because, like so many MPs, I’ve done it myself. I’ve enjoyed many days stuffing envelopes, canvassing, fundraising and chairing branch events – all those jobs behind the scenes that keep our Party running smoothly. The voluntary party really is ‘The’ Conservative Party. The legitimacy and power of Conservative MPs come directly from you.

So I know what a rollercoaster the last three weeks have been for everyone. Maria was an excellent candidate and it must be a very tough day for her. We’ve all worked incredibly hard to try to win the Eastleigh seat. And we’ve shared the load. I worked with a team of 10 councillors and activists from my Windsor constituency alongside hundreds of other Conservative activists on the doorsteps in Eastleigh. I was there on Election Day door-knocking with hundreds more. The camaraderie among MPs and activists was infectious. It is reassuring that we can still pull together as a Party in tough circumstances to get the message across that the country would be better with a wholly Conservative Government. I saw first-hand how hard we can work. So I’m obviously very disappointed by the result.

In Eastleigh I met and talked to voters on the streets and at their homes. We listened very carefully to what people had to say. I’ve always believed that you need to be an active listener. Only then can you devise policies that address people’s concerns effectively. What I learned in Eastleigh is that people want us to focus on implementing clear policies that address the things that really matter to them. They want us to redouble our efforts to get growth back into the economy and take positive steps in the Budget to create more jobs through thriving British businesses. They want to see action right now. They want to feel confident about the future. And they want to know that we are on their side and will protect our interests in Europe.

By-elections are always unpredictable and this result is a wake-up call for all of us. It’s quite clear that we must refocus our efforts so that the Eastleigh result isn’t repeated across the country in 2015. We need to face up to the reasons why we lost and take action to make changes as quickly as possible. We must relentlessly cut Labour’s deficit. But we also need to encourage businesses, SMEs and sole traders. We need to help them export to new markets and make Britain the first-choice place to invest. We need to help British businesses regain their confidence; help them feel like they can invest, take on staff and grow.

As a Party, what we need to do now is to learn from this result. We need to take this result very seriously. I am optimistic about the future and we have time to turn things around. I want the Party to concentrate on policies that can deliver economic growth for the country sooner rather than later.

Sometimes failure is needed to refocus the effort to succeed. I think this result gives us a valuable opportunity to reflect on the decisions we’ve taken so far. It gives us the chance to move forward with policies that will help us win in 2015.

I know that there will be questions in the media about the threat posed by UKIP. It would be easy to start throwing our weight around and slinging mud in every direction. But that’s not the sensible way of going about things. We need to reflect calmly. We need to think carefully about what people are saying to us. Now is not the time to get side-tracked from the central issues facing the Country. David Cameron is doing a good job in difficult
circumstances and we must all work together and make every effort to help him and our Party get it right.

 

This is what a hi-tech, prosperous and Conservative Britain could look like

The year is 2020.  The UK has enjoyed five years of economic prosperity and stability with a wholly Conservative government.  We are heading back to the top of global economic tables for competitiveness, employment and public sector productivity.  International businesses and investors recognise the UK as “the place to be”.  Britain is recognised as the world’s leading hi-tech nation.  Almost everyone has a tangible stake in the economy by holding shares and bonds in family businesses, mutuals and social enterprises.  Above all people are planning confidently for their future.

The vision I have set out with my colleagues in the 2020 Agenda for Transformation is optimistic, hopeful, and eminently achievable.  Policies are the tools of the trade which politicians must use to realise their longer term purposes and objectives: what kind of future do we want, and how do we get there?  It is all too easy for politicians to speak about policies without first defining a vision of the future.

It is vital that Britain knows what a Conservative country looks like.  This publication by Conservative MPs defines a vision of Britain founded on fearless optimism and sound Conservative values – and it sets out the steps to achieve that vision by presenting nothing less than a framework for the 2015 Conservative manifesto.

As co-chairs of the Economic Commission, George Freeman MP and I want to see thriving clusters in aerospace, biosciences, advanced manufacturing and digital technologies spread across the country.  To do so, we need an economic culture that embraces innovation at every level because innovation is the central driver of jobs, productivity and competitiveness in an increasingly globalised economy.  An innovation economy is one in which Britain is:

  1. Globally competitive: SMEs thrive and UK big businesses lead the world, whilst international corporations compete to base their HQs in Britain.
  2. An enterprising nation with flexible employment: tax is low and simple to administrate, and businesses are easy to set up.  Businesses compete for employees, with improving terms and conditions in the absence of major legislation.
  3. A ‘participatory economy’ where everyone has a direct stake in the economy: people own shares in businesses and mutuals, and hold stakes in cooperatives and public services.
  4. Crammed full of high-tech, high-value businesses: the UK is a global hub for science, technology and engineering.  It is the first choice world-wide for registering and exploiting intellectual property.
  5. Known to have the most productive public sector in the world: the public sector landscape is a rich mix of organisations from public bodies, mutuals and cooperatives to private trusts, businesses and investors.  Services improve year on year as these organisations compete with one another.
  6. Completely connected: people are employed and run their own businesses in their spare time.  Public services are easily selected through online apps.

The Coalition Government came together in the national interest to fix the economic mess left by the previous administration.  It has not been easy, and significant progress has been made.  Yet a managerialist approach to government will not win a Conservative majority in 2015.  The biggest challenge Conservatives now face is to set out a cogent and convincing vision of what Britain will look like after a Conservative victory in 2015.  My colleagues and I will be shaping these themes over the coming months, before setting out policies in more detail to be at the forefront of the next manifesto.

It will take nothing less than a clear and distinctive vision of the future to achieve a Conservative majority in 2015 following this unusual period of Coalition.

 

Time to Consider the Future

The Coalition government came together in the national interest armed with the primary purpose of fixing the economic mess left by the previous administration.  The Conservative-led government has been working hard in the face of strong economic headwinds, within the constraints of coalition.  It has not been easy, but significant progress has been made on its priority of reducing Labour’s deficit and stabilising the public finances for the future.

It has been a bumpy ride and in the third year of Coalition government there is understandable concern about what happens next, especially when the Coalition partners appear to be pulling in different directions.

The Institute for Government’s recent report on the mid-term renewal of a coalition government’s legislative programme is informative.  Historically in Britain and across the world, mid-term renewals are common, especially during periods of coalition.  And the practical reasons for an immediate review and renewal the Coalition agreement are compelling.

 

As we enter the third year of coalition, new issues are emerging which require legislation.  Issues like banking reform, adult social care, party political funding and many more were not dealt with in the 2010 agreement. To address these issues, a prioritisation of Coalition policies needs to take place now.

From a Conservative party perspective, the choices we are facing would be made easier following review:  Do we move to minority government or call an election as newly emerging Lib Dem demands seemingly undermine good governance?  How is a Eurozone implosion to be handled?  If a referendum is triggered by an EU treaty change, do we offer a wider question on our relationship with the EU?  Should the government bring forward policies which were not part of the coalition agreement, such as those surrounding marriage, Lords Reform and aspects of NHS restructuring?

A renewal of the agreement would also take seriously the concerns of the voluntary and parliamentary Conservative party and boost the morale of Associations throughout the country.  As a grass roots Conservative activist since the 1980s, I know how loyal, hard-working and effective the Party can be.  Nowadays, when I visit Conservative Associations, I pick up a sense of frustration with coalition and a concern that party members are distanced from influencing decision-making at the top.  When there is a danger that the Conservative Party is viewed as a problem to be managed from the top down as a tool of coalition, rather than a supportive family valued by its representatives, it is vital that party members’ views are heard and embraced.

To rebuild connections with the parliamentary and voluntary party, I believe the time is right to calmly consider what we want for the future.  Loyalty runs deep in the Conservative Party, but it does not extend to the idea of permanent coalition.  While some people may enjoy the concept of perpetual coalition, the Conservative Party must have a distinct identity and seek to prevent future coalitions.  Coalition is ultimately the unwanted side effect of the Party’s failure to win an outright majority.  But a vibrant and motivated Conservative Party is a formidable foundation for winning elections.

Mid-term polls rarely make enjoyable reading for governing parties, but we cannot afford to hide from the negative approval ratings which point to a Labour/Lib Dem coalition if something is not done.  Fear of tackling the underlying discontent among supporters and voters must not allow us to sleep-walk into losing the 30-40 marginal seats that were so hard won in 2010, needlessly squandering the high-calibre and energetic new MPs of the future.

With many MPs feeling they have nothing to lose and a lot to offer in the current climate, we must also harness their energy and expertise to forge a new manifesto and election-winning strategy for what remains of this Parliament.

It is reassuring that many Conservative MPs are working hard to define the policies and manifesto required for a Conservative majority at the next election.  2020 Conservatives, newly elected MPs and the 1922 sub-committees are working on policy ideas for the manifesto, because we are determined to see a wholly Conservative government.  There is great experience among Conservative Peers and Associations which must also be brought to bear.

Right now the country and the party need a greater sense of mission and direction.  We must make and win the arguments for a more prosperous Britain with a caring and determined majority Conservative government.  By reviewing and refreshing the terms of the Coalition agreement, we will have the chance to rally round and reaffirm our confidence in the direction of travel and increase the chances of making economic growth a reality.

It is in this context that Conservative MPs are keen to reflect on the future of both the next manifesto and the Coalition agreement.  Consideration of what the country needs from the remainder of the Coalition period must be part of the process of renewal.