ConservativeHome put 15 questions – some from the editorial team and some from ConservativeHome readers, submitted in our recent appeal – to each candidate for the Party leadership. The first 14 questions were put to every hopeful, and the final one varied for each candidate.
Here are Mark Harper’s answers to ConservativeHome’s 15 questions:
1. Theresa May suggested there should be “an end to austerity”. Was she right or wrong – and why in either case?
When some people say “austerity”, I say “living within our means”. Families and individuals up and down the country have to live within their means every day, and the finances of government should be no different.
If the Conservatives are to survive electorally, we must continue to uphold our reputation for sound money and fiscal credibility, which is why I have not spent this leadership campaign seeking to spray around taxpayers’ money with unfunded promises and urging colleagues to “turn on the taps” of public spending.
The Prime Minister was right in the sense that the economy is no longer in the dire state that it was in 2010 – but wrong in not acknowledging that our country must and should continue to live within its means, while using the proceeds of growth to cut taxes and fund priorities like boosting school funding and support for Further Education and Apprenticeships.
2. ”The UK should set a zero carbon target for 2050.” Do you agree and if so why?
Yes. I was happy to endorse that recommendation from the Independent Committee on Climate Change and also supported a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament mandating this target.
It is clear that our climate is changing and for our economy and society to be secure in future decades, we need to continue to reduce carbon emissions across all sectors. The target is deliverable, and we must take action before that changes.
We should continue to make the argument that it is the UK that has one of the best records for taking action on climate change over recent years. Since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent – the best performance on a per person basis than any other G7 nation. This is something to be proud of, and the current top team have not managed to make the case for this country’s brilliant record.
3. What would you do to strengthen the Union?
The best way to strengthen the Union is to deliver Brexit with a deal that ensures all four nations of our United Kingdom leave the EU on the same terms.
I would ensure that the concerns of both communities and all Parties in Northern Ireland are addressed by leading a renewed effort to restore Stormont.
Having listened to the concern of my Scottish and Welsh colleagues, I would ensure that Scottish and Welsh voices are heard through a dedicated devolved contingent in the Number 10 machinery to ensure we do a better job in demonstrating how UK Government resources are spent rather than having them portrayed as Nicola Sturgeon or Mark Drakeford dishing out their own cash.
4. From reader Penny_Change: Will you commit to cancelling HS2?
No. Some people want to scrap it, but if that was to happen, our existing rail infrastructure would still need to have a massive capacity upgrade that would cause serious day-to-day disruption for commuters across the country.
It is clear if you speak to people outside the M25 that they are keen for us to improve our infrastructure so that growth is more evenly distributed across the country – those of you who have been to Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham can see for yourselves the growth opportunities that HS2 investment has offered. I want that to continue to be the case in Birmingham and beyond.
If we are serious about growing the economy outside London and the South, HS2 is vital to achieving that.
5. What is the right level of immigration for Britain?
Where every worker coming here is contributing more to our economy in taxes than they are consuming in public services so we’re all made richer. This involves taking serious consideration of what the needs and skill shortages of each sector and region of the UK are and what needs can be met with talent from our existing pool of students and workers in this country.
Now that we are leaving the EU – a big part of the mandate for which was the desire to control our own immigration policy – we have the opportunity to decide an immigration policy that works for Britain, not Brussels.
Our new policy should be based on skills and what people can offer to the economy rather than where they have come from. The current target should be replaced with a new, firm but achievable regime.
6. Is the internet a threat to be contained or an opportunity to be unleashed?
The internet is an opportunity to be unleashed. It connects human beings in every part of the world and is a force for freedom.
The balance to be struck is maintaining consumer choice with making sure the internet doesn’t harm society by providing terrorists and criminals with a back door into our lives. As a Gloucestershire MP, I know the fantastic work that GCHQ and our other agencies do to keep us safe and ensure that our freedom is maintained. As we enter the internet age, we must ensure that the opportunities it provides are unleashed, and this starts with our schools and with further education – educating tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and giving the skills they need as well as investing in Further Education and apprenticeships for those who don’t go to university.
7. Do you agree that the NHS is an expression of British values?
Yes, I do. As Conservatives, we should conserve the NHS and make it fit for 21st century Britain.
8. Would you be prepared to take Britain out of the EU without a deal at the end of October if necessary?
No Deal would remain on the table under my leadership, but my preference would be for us to leave with a deal – a deal that reflected the mandate given by the House of Commons to the Brady amendment in January.
That means working with my colleagues and our DUP allies to change the backstop and leave with a deal we can all support.
If that wouldn’t work and I was faced with a choice between No Deal and no Brexit, I would choose to leave. It isn’t credible to say we’re leaving on 31st October. We won’t get a deal delivered by then and without a serious attempt to do so, Parliament will block our exit.
9. Please complete the following sentence in no more than 30 words: “Conservatism is…”
…the freedom to control your own lives and be rewarded for your hard work, and creating opportunity for every child to get the best possible start and fulfil their potential.
10. From reader Graham, in Bristol: Why should I rejoin the Conservatives [under your leadership] from The Brexit Party?
Because I will deliver Brexit – the way we beat Nigel Farage and the Brexit party is not to make more noise than they do, but to get on and deliver Brexit – something that the current top team have failed to do over the past three years.
I will not only deliver Brexit, but will do so without losing sight of why the UK voted to leave. Leaving is not an end in itself. It’s the clean slate to start prioritising our domestic agenda. That means controlling immigration, investing in schools and Further Education, building houses where there is a regional shortage and fixing our NHS and social care.
11. Pick one: No Brexit, a 2019 general election, or a second referendum this year.
None of the above, please!
No Brexit or a second referendum would be a hammer blow to the democratic fabric of this country and a 2019 general election before we have left the EU (it is simply not credible to say that we can leave by October 31st with a deal) would probably lead to the end of the Conservative Party.
12. Should the Party Chairman be elected?
No. I believe that the ultimate elected authority should be the Party Leader so it is clear where the buck stops.
Strong leadership from the Leader combined with a strong, dynamic Chairman is the key to rebuilding the relationship between the Party and its members, and reaching out to the members of the public who share our values but don’t currently vote for us.
13. From reader LieBertArian: What will you do to root out Islamophobia in the Tory party?
Discrimination in any form should always lead to action. CCHQ needs to be quicker at conducting inquiries and carrying out suspensions where necessary. We also need to be quicker at identifying who is a Party member and who is a Party voter. We have no control over the latter.
But as a Parliamentary Patron of Conservative Friends of Pakistan, I firmly believe that the way to fight discrimination on both of those fronts is to show the public that we are a Party for everyone who shares our values. And we should work with the Party affiliate groups like CFoP, to extend our reach and involvement within those communities.
14. From reader hertscommuter: What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
It has to be falling off a table while dancing in a Soho bar and breaking my ankle while at my wife’s work leaving party. I was rumbled when I bumped into a journalist at St Thomas’s Hospital A&E (what were the chances) before taking Home Office Questions some days later – complete with a pair of crutches!
I also had to go to Algeria on a ministerial engagement as Immigration Minister. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Algerian Minister all thought my mishap was rather amusing. Theresa May, regrettably, did not. Still, that’s certainly naughtier than running through a field of wheat!
15. Can a Prime Minister realistically start building their public profile once in office?
I believe that getting results is the most urgent priority of any Prime Minister when they take office.
As a Party, we are in real trouble – and that, in part, is due to a host of well-known faces at the top table failing in their task to deliver Brexit.
The first route to getting results is to deliver Brexit with a credible plan, something that I have set out and that none of the current top team have managed to do during the past three years.
>To read the answers of the other candidates, click here.