2010 Election Highlights
(Article; Why I'm optimistic about the future of our country and our Party; originally published on Conservative Home on Sunday 19 May 2013)
I'm proud of our country and proud to be British. I am patriotic and I don't mind who knows it. I love our country; I love our energy, invention, resilience and character and value our vibrant cities and bustling towns and villages. For me, Britain is the best place on earth.
Our leaders and people have shaped the world we know today. Our great inventors and scientists, architects and builders, educators and explorers, poets, writers, artists and musicians have contributed to the evolution of industry, global trade, technology, engineering, finance, healthcare, culture, politics, law and the arts. From Isaac Newton's reflecting telescope and Swan's electric light bulb to Brunel's bridges, Aspdin's cement and Frank Whittle's jet engine; from Fox Talbot's photography, the telephone and television right up to the invention of the World Wide Web, Britons have always been pioneers; contributors to all that is best in the field of human development.
We have defended ourselves and others against tyranny and spread freedom and democracy around the globe. We have the mother of all parliaments. Britain is great, and I'm not surprised that so many people want to work here and become citizens. It's a compliment.
And our Conservative Party has played a defining role in our history. Our values are shared by the majority of British people. We defend the vulnerable, uphold the rights of the individual and family, promote the creation of a strong society, believe in the rule of law, create opportunity for all and will fight, above all, for freedom; freedom from overbearing state interference and freedom to control your own life. We should be proud to be Conservatives.
Being a Conservative is part of who I am and I think, deep down, all people are naturally conservative. They want to be free to make their own decisions and earn a living, secure in the knowledge that their government is defending their interests at home and abroad, whilst keeping out of their way as best it can.
We must stop beating ourselves up about being Conservatives
With the present economic realities, the worries about immigration and the challenges to social mobility my message may sound somewhat utopian. But I seriously don't think it is. If it does sound a bit OTT it's because we've lost sight of how great it is to be British. Perhaps we just take it for granted. For a very long time we've been beating ourselves up – blaming ourselves for every problem and every difficult moment. I think it's time we Conservatives stopped being so hard on ourselves – and stopped compromising. It's time the party started looking at what we stand for, at the great things we have achieved in the past and the incredible things we can achieve in the future. We have the power to transform this country and make it great again. All we need is the vision and the will to succeed.
Whether you are first, third or three hundred generation British, irrespective of skin colour, background or heritage, a shared and positive vision of the future is important; one that resonates in every home, in every neighbourhood, across the whole country, north and south – it's a vision of a future full of hope and optimism. My vision is one that gives us back our confidence in ourselves and our country; it's one that delivers visible results for the country and its people. It is a vision that does not dither or change tack each time the wind blows; it's not one that is self-serving or confusing or accepting of failure. It is a clear and bold vision for the majority, not just the privileged few.
A Conservative Britain: Thriving on trade and enterprise
We need a strong enterprise culture, a vibrant business community and a world-leading trading strategy. We need to look outward across the globe in order to compete not just in Europe but on the international stage. We need a low-tax, high-productivity economy built on sound financial foundations; one where expert management of government spending is a priority. We need a business-focused economy that offers proactive help to our winning sectors including manufacturing, engineering, science, technology and the commercial creative arts - and we need as little red tape as possible. I want to see a country and a government that unashamedly loves our wealth creators and welcome businesses from across the globe with open arms – a government that drives through investment-friendly policies and focuses on microfinancing and trade not aid wherever possible. And, we need to radically realign our relationship with Europe or leave the club. Doing nothing is not an option.
Maintaining strong defence
On defence, we've slimmed down enough. We need to stop cutting our armed forces budget right now. We need to respect our incredible service personnel, those men and women, soldiers, sailors and airmen, who lay down their lives for us. We must celebrate what they have done for this country and what they continue to do for us. I don't care if we need to cut money elsewhere to do this – surely we are smart enough to find the most appropriate waste of cash and make cuts there instead, so we can have a strong, properly equipped modern fighting force with the capability to expand when necessary.
On immigration we need to stop giving away British citizenship like it's a right not a privilege and dedicate ourselves to reducing net migration on a much more ambitious scale. It's our country and we should decide who comes here, stays here or leaves.
Smaller government and social mobility
And when it comes to our overlarge government machine, we must make it more accountable to people by acting in a business-like way and appointing temporary ministers for distinct projects. I want to see us building a new meritocracy, one that ruthlessly encourages social mobility. I don't want people to be promoted on anything other than the skills they have and the potential they show.
Coalition is failure
Coalition is the unwanted result of a failure to win an election. The reality of Coalition doesn't mean we need to act like we're pleased about it. This Coalition has taken us further away from our core grassroots policies than I ever thought possible. It has sidetracked us and caused confusion for the public, upset for our loyal voters and huge disappointment for our dedicated party volunteers and candidates. Because of the Coalition our communications have been muddled and poor; we cannot get our simple messages across and there is a sense of a lack of self-belief in what is said and done.
We had no real choice but to form a Coalition for the good of the country and to secure our short-term fiscal and economic future. But Coalition cannot be used as an excuse for inaction. Right now we must focus absolutely on our own values, on Conservative policies for a conservative country. We must do everything we can to ensure the electorate knows what a majority Conservative government will do and understands that we can help them build a bright future for themselves and their families. The Conservative party is the party of the people
We need a clear sense of direction
What we need right now is a clear sense of direction. We must start acting like leaders, not followers. We need to reassert ourselves; believe in ourselves; be proud and hold our heads up high. We have nothing to be ashamed of; we have everything to gain. If we stick together, get behind our core values, go out and tell everyone who will listen just what we stand for and what it means for them then we will can the next election - but only if we are united and strong. Starting today, we must fly the Conservative flag, each in our way, and make the people proud of our country, heritage and future once again.
We can succeed. We can win. We can rebuild our nation with a wholly Conservative government. The Conservative party I know and love has the courage and the strength to fight and win the next election. We only need an injection of enthusiasm and vision to reignite our self-belief. We have everything else.
(Article; Community First Responders to NHS Ambulance Service; originally published in the Windsor Express on Friday 17 May 2013)
Recently, I joined volunteer NHS Community First Responders at a training session to learn about the vital lifesaving services they provide in Windsor and the surrounding areas. I was absolutely astounded by the work they do and was blown away by their dedication as a team to the cause.
Even the best ambulance service in the world cannot get to every call within the first few minutes and at times, this can mean the difference between life and death. These hard working volunteers give up time to attend life threatening incidents at the request of the Ambulance Service. Because they work in their own communities, they often arrive sooner than an ambulance, which makes all the difference in some situations such as cardiac arrest. I cannot emphasise enough the significance of their work – their early intervention increases a patient's chance of survival and often provides the simple reassurance that the ambulance crew are on their way.
The Government is aware that the public could be better informed on what to do when they witness a cardiac arrest. My conservative colleagues are working hard with the Resuscitation Council, the British Heart Foundation and other charities to promote the registration of defibrillators, and to look at ways of increasing the numbers trained in using them. This is a huge step forward, and groups like the First Responders play a huge role in providing CPR training and increasing awareness. If you'd like to help save lives then give them a call!
The Community First Responders raise money for equipment through fundraising activities. I am seldom this direct, but please give them a donation and if you are a local company put them on your approved charity list immediately! It may be you or your relative's lives that depend on it.
(Article; World development takes more than 0.7%; originally published on Conservative Home on Sunday 12 May 2013)
We need to wean poorer nations off dependency on hand-outs by investing in their potential
If we really want to help develop and transform the future prospects of countries overseas then DFID must encourage enterprise, trade and autonomy - not dependency; and that takes more than the legalistic and arbitrary 0.7% of gross national income.
I'm passionate about international support and overseas aid. But because there is so much emotion and ideological noise around the subject, it is often easier and more effective to come at it from a business-like perspective. That way the focus can be on free-market principles which help develop innovative, common sense solutions. And that's what I'd like DFID to do.
The UK must help to lead world development
If we really care about alleviating poverty then we must lead the world by exporting our business ideals rather than just handing out cash left right and centre; some of which unavoidably ends up in the pockets of warlords and corrupt government officials. We must concentrate on empowering people to take control of their lives wherever possible by giving them access to the finance they need to create small businesses through repayable microfinance and other business-focused initiatives.
I believe the problem we have is that we approach overseas development from the wrong angle: it's not the amount of money spent by DFID that counts – the 0.7%; it's about how that money is spent. We need to start investing rather than gifting. We must not create dependency but self-dependency abroad – that should be the goal; trade rather than aid whenever possible in every circumstance.
Unfortunately, it is only now – through the successive reforms of Andrew Mitchell and Justine Greening– that the insights of market liberalism have begun to penetrate DFID's approach to international aid. I particularly admire Justine Greening's commitment to the health and empowerment of women and girls in under-developed countries. But we must focus relentlessly on enabling development from within each nation we assist.
Clearly, we must respond to cases of emergency like famines, health epidemics and natural disasters and we obviously do have a role to play in helping innocents in war torn areas and stateless regions. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we should throw money around in every circumstance.
DFID must encourage self-dependency not welfare
Even in these very difficult situations we must be strong enough to ask ourselves if it is better to treat the money as a loan to the individuals, regions or governments. Otherwise we are in danger of perpetuating the debilitating dependency culture we are so desperately trying to rid ourselves of in the UK welfare system. The last thing on earth we want to export is welfare dependency.
DFID is the department for 'International Development' not merely aid. This means incentivising the emergence of stable democracies, the rule of law, free press, enterprise and business, competitive markets and international trade. And of course we must help them to develop education, sanitation and healthcare, but it is more sensible to enable countries to do this through their own resources so that they are ready – or better able to cope - in crisis situations.
The understanding of a free press is vital part of development
DIFD should also have an explicit role in educating newer democracies in the concept of a free and pluralistic press. There are countless examples of conflicts perpetuated and prolonged by a lack of a free press, places where if people had access to a plurality of views the results may not have been so catastrophic.
Invest in jobs and people
I believe the best gift that UK aid and support can provide is to help create jobs so people can take care of themselves – and it's even better if we can support the creation of new enterprises so that people are able to build their own way out of poverty. In every family – no matter what nationality, culture and skin tone – there will be an entrepreneur just desperate to support their own relatives and community.
Hand-outs are bad for local entrepreneurs. An effective aid system must kick-starts local growth and gets villages and neighbourhoods to the position where they can stand on their own two feet. There will always be a place for hand-outs; indeed sometimes this is the best option. Aid given directly to mothers to feed their children in a crisis will always be money well spent. But parcelling out non-lifesaving hand-outs may be undercutting local entrepreneurs who would compete with each other to supply what people demand, and it is undermining potential economic growth and jobs. In the end, hand-outs capture communities in a welfare trap. There will always be a place for emergency lifesaving hand-outs but it should not be the first reaction to need on every occasion.
In my view the way forward is for Britain to stop solely focusing on obtaining the UN's 0.7% target and to start acting in a more business-like way when it comes to overseas aid and development. Even though I accept that much of our current aid money goes via the EU over which we have little control, in order to make our overseas aid work harder and smarter I suggest we look more carefully at the following five areas:
1. Measuring the return on our investments
Alongside the short-term monitoring of the number of lives saved in emergency situations, DFID must fully take on board the concept of investment. It should have a model and measure of the return both locally and to the UK in terms of tax, repayments and the reduced costs of conflict. If we can measure the return on investment we can be sure we're not just providing hand-outs. In addition we need to focus on business and enterprise abroad, just like we must do at home. Trade is the key and thought needs to be given to how overseas development money can be judged against the extra trade generated and the resultant benefits to the UK. I believe there should be an even closer working relationship between the DFI and UKTI – perhaps a UKTI representative on the ground at every major project where possible?
2. A bigger role for philanthropy
Charities such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Action Aid, the British Red Cross and hundreds of other organisations do amazing, and often under-reported, work across the globe. In addition there are many inspirational philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates and their tireless quest to tackle global health, Bob Geldof and his fearless commitment to getting people to hand over their money for Africa, Bono's One campaign highlighting the plight of the world's poorest and unsung heroes across the UK who care enough to make doing their bit for charity part of their life.
3. A list of countries we will support
We should draw up and regularly review a clear list of countries eligible for UK aid; a list of those ineligible and a list of countries we deal with on a case-by-case basis. Then we need to start investing and one of the best ways to do this is through microfinance direct to entrepreneurs.
4. DFID support for repayable microfinance
There are many examples of microfinance working spectacularly well around the world. Microfinance pioneers such as Finca who now operate in 21 countries worldwide, and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh set up by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus are just two examples of good, well-run microlenders who help people to take control of their own futures. I can see no reason why the DFID could not partner with similar organisations.
DFID do support microfinance but there is scope to increase the size and reach of this funding. I believe we should partner with a higher number of established larger-scale lenders and commit the resources now. Remember, these are tiny amounts of money to each individual – on average, I believe, under £20. But they make a massive difference to people's lives because entrepreneurs are then able to buy stock, trade, earn money, repay their loans and invest for the future of their families.
5. Remove EU protectionism
Another thing that's top of my list is reducing EU protectionism especially when it blocks out developing countries from trading on a level playing field. Why does this happen? Why are whole swathes of the world's poorest countries unable to trade effectively with the EU? Who is that helping? Not us and certainly not them. Churchill left his party for a failure to back free trade, what are we to do in response?
Finally we need set tougher targets and renew our focus on getting results rather than the process of aid spending. We might want to define results as some combination of effective humanitarian aid, economic growth and increasing trade. Whatever the method, above all this must be quantifiable. By being unable to quantify results, we continue to place greater emphasis on inputs - i.e. 0.7%. Also, there are places where we need to look again at the figures. We must examine carefully what constitutes aid. Even though we claim to be stopping aid to certain countries like India, we may still be providing aid in the form of free technical support that is not captured in the figures.
Unleash the power of human potential
My vision is for Britain at the forefront of international development. I want to see us using our aid money in a smarter ways. It must help the poorest countries in the world unleash the power of human enterprise because it is entrepreneurs and businesses that will trade these countries out of poverty forever. It would be wonderful to report each year on how many productive jobs our money had helped create through better trade and investment both here and abroad, rather than simply reporting how many hand-outs we'd given.
So, perhaps 0.7% of national income is not enough. If we can focus on a new approach to aid in the developing world, help their people reach their potential and invest rather than gift, then 0.7% is definitely not enough.
(Article; Conservatives must tackle the issues that matter to the people; originally published in the Mail on Sunday on Sunday 05 May 2013)
We must stop pussyfooting around and start listening to voters' views on immigration and the EU.
Thursday's local elections results were disappointing for the Conservative Party. No one can deny that. We lost many hard-working councillors and other parties, including UKIP, made an unsettling number of gains.
The results were also a potential disaster for voters. In my Windsor constituency we have the lowest council tax rate outside of London and some of the best public services.
There is now a danger the council tax freeze by Conservative authorities up and down the country could be reversed by newly elected Labour councillors.
But the electorate have spoken and I want us to listen. As a party, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions: Why did voters in Conservative strongholds feel the party was no longer on their side?
Why did some voters lose faith in the party to deliver a bright and vibrant future for the country?
I have been a grassroots Conservative for more than 25 years. I know what our party stands for. We want smaller government; we want to unleash the transformative power of enterprise; we want simpler, lower taxes and we want to put Britain first in everything it does.
But, right now, our strong and popular message does not seem to be reaching the public – we must start tackling the issues that matter to people.
People no longer believe we have the grit, determination and political will to deal with the problems of immigration and Europe. They feel their country is careering down a slippery slope towards membership of a giant federal Europe – a new nation super-state that they did not agree to join.
They see British legislation replaced by new EU laws, and all they hear is: 'It's an EU regulation – we can't do anything about it.'
Now, if we want to control our borders, we need prior permission from unelected European commissioners.
But getting a grip on immigration is essential if we are going to stand up for the interests of our citizens. High levels of immigration put severe pressure on UK public services and infrastructure, push up the cost of housing and put a strain on the job market.
In my view there are four major groups of immigrants: Illegal, asylum seekers, people working here legally on work visas and students. Of course, tourists regularly visit the UK too.
Illegal immigrants should be deported. Tourists and genuine students should be welcomed with open arms – because every pound they spend in Britain, on our high streets or in our universities, contributes to this country's long-term prosperity.
Next, we must make sure that people here on working visas are net contributors to Britain – that they are adding to the Treasury and contributing to British public services.
That is why I propose mandatory health insurance for all temporary visitors to this country. It could be paid and processed alongside the normal visa process.
It would relax financial pressure on the NHS and guarantee continued investment where required to deal with the increased load. If the US and Australia can implement an effective health insurance scheme for visitors, why can't we?
Next, I propose non-British citizens working in the UK pay a tax supplement of, say, two per cent on top of their base-rate income tax. That would guarantee foreign workers are contributing to the upkeep of the UK – contributing to strong British courts, UK defence and vital national services.
But if these measures are to be effective, they must also apply to EU immigrants. The EU is the burdensome, federal elephant in the room. It would be unfair to UK citizens and other non-EU immigrants who are paying their way, if tens of thousands of annual EU immigrants were given a free ride. So we must reject the idea of pan-European citizenship.
Currently, the UK cannot target measures at other EU citizens because we are all 'citizens of Europe'.
To have any hope of building a better future for Britain we must restore our status as a sovereign country and renegotiate with the EU. And if that fails, we must remember that withdrawal is a serious option.
I want to see a country at ease with itself – an integrated Britain that welcomes hard-working people from wherever. But we must implement policies that ensure working immigrants are net contributors to British life, the British economy and British culture.
(Article; My own life story has led me to prize British citizenship; originally published on Conservative Home on Sunday 05 May 2013)
British citizenship is one of our most prized possessions. Not only are we part of a civilised and democratic society, subject to the rule of law, but we have access to top-quality healthcare and education. We should not be surprised that so many people, rich and poor, would love to settle here. We are the envy of the world in many ways.
This might sound uncomfortably patriotic. But there's a reason for that. I am only too aware that I could have been born elsewhere, and not enjoyed the ample benefits and opportunities of British citizenship. My mother was pregnant with me as she returned to Britain after separating from my Ghanaian father. I am sure we can all recognise the intense value of British citizenship. Whether you are a first, third, or 300th-generation immigrant to these islands, go back far enough and we are all in the same boat.
I went on to grow up in social housing in South London, an especially tough upbringing for a child of mixed heritage in 1960s Britain. But perhaps it is because of this background that I understand how people really feel about immigration. It is the pace of change that causes people to feel unsettled, and even more so in these difficult economic times. It is the sense that our neighbourhoods are changing at too rapid a rate; that we cannot understand the languages or cultures around us.
Immigration is not new: Many people cite the arrival of 493 West Africans on the Empire Windrush as the start of mass immigration. But this number is dwarfed by the 3.5 million people that arrived in Britain during the course of the last Labour government. While the Conservative-led government has cut net migration by over a third, people are still worried. We feel powerless in the face of inflexible EU legislation, and concerned about lifting labour movement restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens – especially since unemployment benefit is 2.7 times Bulgaria's minimum wage.
And we are not the only ones. Germany has expressed similar reservations about the border-free travel zone. In March, Hans-Peter Friedrich, the Interior Minister, told Spiegel newspaper: "The right to freedom of movement means that every citizen of the EU can remain in any member state when he or she studies or works there. Any EU citizen who fulfils that condition is welcome here. But those who only come to receive social welfare, and thus abuse the freedom of movement – they must be effectively prevented from doing so."Much of our attitude, and that of many other EU nations, stems from a feeling that people are unjustly securing our prized citizenship without making a fair contribution. When someone joins a company they receive a salary – that is it, they do not automatically get a share in the company. And when someone rents a room from you, they do not automatically get to stay or own part of your home. We would never expect to become citizens elsewhere without possessing some historic connection or meeting some strict criteria, and rightly so. We must tackle this injustice, and be seen to do so, if people are to engage with politicians seriously again.
Different types of immigration
The current immigration debate is marred with negative connotations because distinct groups of immigrants are incorrectly lumped together and tarred with the same brush: Illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, those working here legally on work visas, tourists and students.We must treat each as a distinct group.
Citizenship must be carefully rationed
But what confounds rational debate and makes people foam with anger is immigrants' almost automatic right to apply for British citizenship – sometimes by virtue of having lived here for as little as three years. To add some perspective: in Switzerland, residents must have lived in the country for at least 12 years, and the local community get a binding vote on all citizenship applications.
We must sever any form of automatic link between working in the UK and attaining citizenship. We must also increase the length of time it takes before a right of settlement can be considered. Nobody expects to qualify to become a Swiss national because, and only because, they have lived there for while – there is a lot more to it than that.
These two concepts need to be separated. On the one hand, we must build a vibrant economy through welcoming workers, tourists and students provided they pay their way. On the other, we must protect and ration the prize of British citizenship.
No doubt, this will take political will and grit, but we are still a sovereign nation. We need to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership – or withdraw. We must make it clear that we reject the concept of some pan-European citizenship which threatens to steam roll the culturally-rich identities of Britain and our European colleagues. And, of course, we must choose our words carefully to avoid the dog-whistle accusations of racism.
It is to our credit that hundreds of thousands of people want to become British citizens. It is a mark of our international standing as a tolerant, welcoming, vibrant and exciting nation that offers opportunities to all regardless of heritage or nationality. But we must stop flattering ourselves and start acting more business-like. We cannot keep welcoming everyone at the expense of our own citizens. Now is the time to take control so that we have a country at ease with itself – so we have an integrated, fully functional society with a bright future.
(Article; King George VI Day Centre; originally published in the Windsor Express on Friday 03 May 2013)
The Windsor constituency is full of close knit families, neighbourhoods and organisations that do all they can to support one another. We have a wonderful spark which pulls us together and gives a wide pool of dedicated volunteers who give up their time to keep that sense of community spirit alive. I witnessed this first hand once again when I visited the King George VI Day Centre in Clarence Road last Friday.
I suspect we'll all want a bit of down time when we get older, and the Day Centre is a great place where the elderly folk of Windsor can socialise in a safe and friendly environment. For a small fee members of the centre can get lunch, entertainment, watch films and enjoy meeting their friends in a warm, hospitable atmosphere. During my visit I met Pat Gare, the centre's coordinator, and her deputy, Dr Geoff Pickering, who showed to me some of the good work that helps members maintain their independence and improve their wellbeing. I was so impressed with their passion for the cause and was really concerned to hear that funding this year has been hard to come by.
It is important that local older people are treated well if we are to call ourselves a civilised society and I hope that as many people as possible will play their part by supporting those who help older people. The King George VI Day Centre is a very worthwhile local cause. I'd urge you to get involved if you live nearby. You can also make a donation at www.kgvidaycentre.btck.co.uk.
You'll find it's an excellent example of localism in practise, and epitomises the Government's driving mission to treat pensioners with dignity and respect. If we want to maintain a sense of community, there are few better ways than to visit and provide our support!
(Article; "Jobs for the boys" is making this Government too big; originally published on Conservative Home on Sunday 28 April 2013)
It's time to fulfil the promise of smaller government - and temporary ministers can help.
In our 2010 manifesto we were committed to reducing the size of government. And yet, three years on, it only seems to be growing in size and expanding in reach. To me, this expansion is deeply worrying and rather perplexing.
Starting at the top, there are currently 31 people who attend Cabinet on a regular basis. Having spent more than 20 years starting and growing businesses, I cannot ever recall chairing a company board meeting with more than a handful of directors and executives in the room. Any more people and it simply wouldn't work; it wouldn't be effective. In my time as a Governor of the Museum of London, we would seldom have more than a dozen or so active participants in a board meeting; even in some of the world's largest companies you'd be unlikely to see more than 15 people.
Of course the government is not a private business. But there is no doubt that the infrastructure that governs us is growing. According to a report by the Public Administration Select Committee, in 1900 there were 60 ministers, by 1950 this had increased to 81, and by January 2010 the figure was 119. The number of ministers below Cabinet rank increased much more substantially, from 41 in 1900 to 96 in 2010. And remember, there is now devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so logically the figures should have dropped – but no, they've just kept on going up.
And there's a cost implication too. As Lord Turnbull, a former Cabinet Secretary, pointed out, even an unpaid minister is not without cost to the taxpayer: "If you give a minister three private secretaries, a press officer, a driver, a car, there is not much change from half a million pounds...[as well as] tying down a lot of civil service resources."
Basically, there are just too many government departments ,and there are too many people attending Cabinet to make it an effective decision-making body. This may be uncomfortable for career politicians hoping for a ministerial post or a seat in cabinet, but we must remain true to what we believe.
Do we need so many departments and cabinet ministers?
This begs a number of questions. First, for example, why do we need two separate departments to cover energy and climate change, and environment food and rural affairs? Why does the Department for International Development need to be separate from the Foreign Office? It is not that the functions performed need necessarily to be reduced or even given less priority. It just seems to be more practical and business-like to streamline and combine similar functions.
While I very much approve of maintaining a vibrant and creative arts and sporting culture, many people ask me whether it's really necessary for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to have a cabinet presence with a Secretary of State, rather than a Minister of State. In the same way that we have seen job-title inflation in the public sector, we have, sadly, seen our Government follow suit with permanent new jobs and departments. I suspect it's more about jobs for the boys and alleviating political pressures. Therefore, I really think we must take a serious look at how our country is governed before there are more MPs on the government payroll than there are holding it to account.
Making use of 'temporary' ministers makes good sense
In addition cutting the numbers on the government payroll, I believe there is a compelling argument for 'temporary' ministers. Temporary ministers would act as project managers, rather than permanent fixtures. They would focus on specific legislation, major changes, or events such as The Olympics, for example. Once their job was completed they could move on with a sense of satisfaction and achievement - without having been sacked. If there was a need for them to stay, then it would be a sign of failure rather than success.
Stemming the flow of legislation and regulation
When I started as a Conservative activist in the late 1980s, I knew what I wanted: smaller government and a smaller state, so that people had a greater sense of control over their lives. Unfortunately, since the 1980s, the government has kept on growing – not just in size but also in reach. It's now in every area and aspect of our lives. Some of this stems from the ever-expanding legislation factory in Brussels. But thankfully the EU does not control the size of our government: it is one area where we can make our own independent decisions and we must act to create a more effective, efficient, business-like government operation.
At home, the pressure for British ministers to constantly create new laws and regulations is relentless. It is perhaps the only way they can make their mark and it has become the culture of modern politics. But it is the worst way to govern. I want to see a Conservative government that stems the flow of unnecessary legislation and regulation. And if successful we should see a Parliament that sits for fewer days each year, with MPs free to spend more time with the people they serve who live in the real world rather than the rarefied atmosphere of Westminster.
So we must grit our teeth and do everything we can to deliver a wholly Conservative government at the next election; one that can fulfil its promise to decrease the size of the government and hand more control back to the British people.
(Article; Campaigning in South Shields; originally published on Conservative Home on Tuesday 23 April 2013)
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.
(Article; Tears and Laughter at Baroness Thatcher's Funeral; originally published in the Royal Borough Observer on Friday 19 April 2013)
What a privilege it was to pay my respects at the funeral of the late Baroness Thatcher.
I hadn't imagined I'd be moved to tears by the occasion. But, as I observed the simple serenity of her coffin draped in the flag of the country she loved and heard the clapping of the crowds outside, I was overwhelmed with a sense of patriotism and gratitude to one of the greatest Prime Ministers and leaders in the history of the world. I was also struck by the fact that she was also, quite simply, a wife and a mother to her children.
I am old enough to remember the piles of rotting rubbish, the blackouts, the strikes and the unburied bodies in the 1970s. Love her or hate her as a political figure, it is indisputable that she lifted our country from its knees as a failing and humiliated nation in the eyes of the world, to the powerhouse of enterprise and economic growth.
So I was honoured to sit amongst friends and colleagues in St Paul's Cathedral and reflect upon a time when the Conservative Party was 'the' Party of the British people.
When I joined the Conservative Party and became active in the late 1980s, it was to support Mrs Thatcher as she began to face increasing troubles from fellow MPs. In an age now where it is all too easy to remain silent, her funeral brought back to me a sense of what is was like to have a party united on a mission to fight the bullying forces of socialism and state control, and the desire to free people to be part of a property and share holding democracy. Politicians from all sides should take courage from her convictions.
As we reflected on her legacy – laughing at shared anecdotes of having met her- my colleagues and I felt proud. A grocer's daughter; she proved that hard work reaps the biggest rewards. May she rest in peace and may we rediscover the sense of purpose we once had.
(Article; Tribute to Baroness Thatcher; originally published in the Windsor Express on Friday 19 April 2013)
Last week, we lost a great leader, a great woman and a great Briton in Margaret Thatcher. She epitomised the aspiration of a generation, and it was her conviction that inspired so many people to get up and get on in life. She made a huge difference to the country and her legacy will continue to shape British politics for years to come.
Having come to politics from a background in starting and growing small and medium sized businesses, I know first-hand how difficult it is to get a business off the ground and make it a success. I speak regularly about my belief in supporting British enterprises to create jobs and drive the growth that this country so desperately needs. Turn back the clocks to 1979, and we see a politician in Margaret Thatcher with very much the same principles – the daughter of a grocer, she passionately believed that business was the way to get Britain moving again after the unhappy winter of discontent which saw our country on its knees. Her dedication to the business and competition was unwavering, and her policies proved that low tax and competition is the key to a healthy and vibrant economy. It was these ideas and her drive that put our country back on track.
She will be remembered fondly in my household as a pioneer of social mobility. In many ways she is the person who set me on the road to where I am today and it was a privilege to meet her and welcome her into our home on many occasions.
I am proud of Margaret Thatcher's achievements as a Conservative Prime Minister. She brought lasting change to our country, and proved that hard work reaps the biggest rewards. I will miss her.