By supporting a Conservative Bill that lays the groundwork for an in-out
referendum, David Cameron has fully satisfied the demands of the so- called 81
and all those who have spoken out in our party for a referendum. We should all
now knuckle down, get behind him and focus on the enemy before us.
In 2011, I was one of those who felt very strongly that when backbench
members pressed a backbench business motion on an EU referendum it should have
been a free vote. I expressed my views in no uncertain terms, and for better or
for worse I became one of the 81. Yesterday in Parliament, I spoke about many
issues in the Queens Speech and in favour of a referendum bill, not because I
believe we would win a Parliamentary vote on it in current circumstances, but
because it would highlight how desperately out of touch and divided the Labour
Party is on the issue.
Today the issue in our party is settled. Rightly, we are putting forward
legislation in this Parliament for a referendum in the next one. Debating it
will show how much more in tune with our voters we are on this issue than
either our coalition colleagues in the Liberal Democrats or the Labour Party.
Our Prime Minister has repeatedly been right on this issue when the
pundits predicted he was wrong. He would never wield his veto, they said. Then
they said that by doing so he had lost his voice in Europe. He could never get
a reduction in the EU budget, they said, Then when he did that they moved onto
how he could never put forward a referendum. He would never allow a free vote
on a referendum they said. Oh, he just did. Once again, he has answered the
doubters and delivered the goods.
We now need to get out there and show that we are the only Party that can
deliver on this issue. We need to point out how absurd it is for the other
parties to pretend they know better than the electorate, remind voters that
Conservative MPs voted for a referendum on Lisbon, and that only Conservative
Prime Ministers have ever stood up to the EU to get a better deal.
But we also need to move the argument on from Europe. I have been amazed
at the number of sensible Conservatives who seem to have allowed one set of mid-term local elections spook them into thinking the only thing we need worry
about is UKIP. I represent a marginal seat, one that has spent thirteen out of
its sixteen years in its current boundaries as a Labour seat. This week, Worcester
saw a vote of no confidence in an excellent, well-run Conservative
administration on our city council by an unholy alliance of Labour, Lib Dems
and Greens. They don't have the popular mandate to do it but they went ahead
In the two weeks before the recent county elections, I was out knocking on
doors. The economy, immigration, housing, the NHS all came up as did myriad
local issues. Europe was barely raised at all. This was all the more remarkable
as Nigel Farage was in Worcester not once, but twice in that period. We also saw
visits from the leader of the Greens and the leader of the Labour Party.
The results weren't all sweetness and light. We lost a seat to the Greens
where an excellent long serving councillor was ousted by a wave of doorstep
activism. We lost two seats back to Labour that we had won on the high tide of
2009. However, at the end of the day we kept control of our County council ,with
30 members to their 12. UKIP got nowhere in Worcester, and their only
achievement was to allow the Lib Dems to hold on to their one seat.
Conservative candidates came first or second in nine out of the city's then, divisions
whilst Labour were beaten to third or fourth in four. Remarkably, when the popular
vote was counted across the city, it was our party that won. We came from
behind Labour in 2012 and won the popular vote in this weather-vane seat in
Over the last 13 years, our Conservative-run city council kept
council tax down and delivered five times as many affordable homes each year
as Labour managed when they ran the council. It delivered regeneration in our
city centre and investment in the riverside. It supported businesses and
invested in apprenticeships. It balanced the budget and reduced bureaucracy
whilst protecting services. Now all of this is being put at risk by a Labour
group who lost the popular vote this May and have no clear plans for the future.
Last time they ran the city, they left it nearly broke.
We must defeat Labour by showing we can govern better. We must deliver
better services and balance the books. We must address people's concerns over
immigration, education, housing and health. We must win the fight over the
future of our country and the future of our economy. We will only do so if we
all pull together and recognise that the real enemy lies before us on the
opposition benches and not in the Will-o-the-wisp of UKIP. At the end of the
next general election, Worcester and the country will either be Conservative or
Labour. Whether or not we have a referendum will depend on this but so will so
The Prime Minister recognises this, he has just set out a Queen's Speech
that balances efficiency with compassion and he deserves the full support of
every Conservative member in the House to make our case.