Scott Mann is the Conservative MP for North Cornwall.
However profound the effect of last week’s vote to leave the European Union was on British public opinion, it is nothing compared to the seismic shock that has rocked our country’s politics. The Prime Minster has tendered his resignation and, as the Labour Party tears itself apart, it is now time for the Conservative Party to unite and provide the UK with the strong leadership that is required.
The parliamentary party is not immune from the uncertainty that has gripped many people in the aftermath of Brexit. The leadership contest has already thrown up some bewildering twists, and many of my colleagues are searching for a figure of stability to end the acrimony, and unite us in the interests of the country. The campaign was divisive enough, and there is now no room for the bitterness that characterised so much of the debate.
For all the talk of second referendums and parliamentary blockades, there is no question that Britain must leave the European Union. The 23rd of June was the greatest democratic exercise in our country’s history. 17.5 million people voted for Brexit, and it is impossible to ignore their instruction. Likewise, free movement cannot be used as a bargaining chip, sacrificed to extract concessions from Brussels. As such, it would be extremely difficult for the next Prime Minister to come from the ranks of those who campaigned to remain (even reluctant ones) in a political union that the voters have so emphatically rejected.
The Conservative Party must then choose a leader who is fully committed to leaving the European Union, but who also campaigned with fairness, honesty and respect. On Tuesday, I will cast my vote for Liam Fox, and I would urge all of my colleagues to do the same.
Liam’s vision for this country could not be more different to the future of fear and uncertainty that many seem to have resigned themselves to over the past week. He believes that Britain’s strengths lie in its internationalism, not in an inward-looking Europe. In a competitive global economy, we have enormous natural advantages: a legal system that is admired across the globe, a skilled workforce, low regulation, low taxation, and some of the best universities in the world.
Liam does not believe that Britain, blessed with such advantages, should have to settle for the Norwegian model or the Canadian model of relationship with the EU. The Conservative Party has a unique opportunity to shape Britain on the world stage. A Britain based on internationalism, free trade, and low regulation. An irresistible place to do business. If we are to seize this once-in-a-generation chance with both hands, our party and our country requires a leader of true and unwavering Conservative principles.
The UK has always been an outward-looking liberal democracy, and our values and behaviour have already shaped much of the world around us. The British public have given us the chance to do so again. It is time to play to our strengths, and correct those who say that our country cannot stand on its own two feet without the help of Brussels.
The Conservative Party remains, as it is always been, the party of aspiration. Yet if Britain aspires to lead the world, this ambition must begin at home. Like me, Liam is the product of a working-class family and a state education. East Kilbride has not produced many Conservative politicians, and Liam has emerged with a fierce belief that effort and ability should be rewarded.
He knows that welfare reform must be continued to give a leg-up to those who need it most. Society has a moral duty to help those who cannot help themselves, but not those who will not help themselves. Yet, as Liam said in his speech last Thursday, “we must recognise that poverty is not simply about the lack of material wealth. Poverty of aspiration and poverty of hope are destructive powers in even the wealthiest societies and we must always be on our guard against them.”
Liam is an unashamed capitalist, but not a corporatist. His capitalist heroes are not the big bankers who pocket bonuses whether they are successful or not, but the small businessmen and women who make sacrifices throughout their lives in order to pass something on to the next generation. Innovation, talent and effort must be rewarded, and the Conservative government must build an economic system that reflects our values.
Yet, if the Conservative Party speak of meritocracy for the country, this should also extend to our ranks. At present there is too much unused talent on the Government benches, and this must be rectified. Liam wants to see the return of politics where promotion is based on merit – not upon which dinner party you attend. Likewise, it is imperative that our members be given more of a say over the running of our party. Liam would like to see a directly-elected Party Chairman, so that our loyal members and local associations who provide our campaigns with boots on the ground have a stake in our party’s governance.
Liam believes, like me, that the wealth of our nation should be spread wider than its capital. For far too long, the focus of wealth creation has been centralised: this must be extended around the United Kingdom. We need to extend our regional airport capacity, promote the digital economy in areas with decent broadband and increase community led housing projects to support working people.
One of Liam’s strongest assets is his experience of international security and foreign policy. The next Prime Minister will need to deal with issues such as ISIS and Russia. There is no time to undertake a training course – this is not like being in opposition where you normally have four or so years to learn the skills
Finally, Liam’s commitment to unionism should be a comfort to those who fear that our precious Union will be broken by the forces of nationalism. Such beliefs all too often have their roots in the hatred of others, but the SNP will find it impossible to tie Liam with the same brush as other ‘southern Tories’. He knows we need to reassure Scotland that the benefits of our new-found freedom will be shared with all.
This leadership election is our chance to unify both party and country. Conservatives have never doubted Britain’s intrinsic strength, and this is the time to choose a leader with the clearest vision of our great country’s future. We live in a land of opportunity, and in a world of opportunity. The British people have made clear how much they value their freedom, and they have seized it with both hands. To take this forward we must choose a leader of unwavering Conservative principles.
Liam Fox is the man with the values, the conviction, and the experience to guide Britain into our bright future. He is the leader that our party, and our country needs.