James Wharton is MP for Stockton South, and Minister for Local Growth and the Northern Powerhouse. In the last Parliament he proposed the European Union (Referendum) Bill.
The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, won the last election. It is a statement of the obvious, but that is why we have a chance to vote on our membership of the EU. It is thanks to that victory that we can deliver on our pledge to hold a referendum. I am voting and campaigning to leave. We are currently delivering the second constituency-wide newsletter to Stockton South explaining why I believe we are better off out.
I have been irritated by some of the outlandish claims by the Remain campaign. Though I could not honestly claim that only one side has behaved that way in all aspects. In truth, the whole referendum debate frustrates me. There is too much application of the old journalists’ trick of ‘first simplify, then exaggerate’.
Representing a Conservative marginal seat in the North East, I am used to my political opponents distorting the truth. I have become accustomed to aggressive and misleading campaigns in our day-to-day politics, where we see the very worst of Labour at play in its heartlands. This EU campaign has been little different. Just because I am used to it, does not mean I like it.
Whatever the outcome, though, I want David Cameron to continue as our Prime Minister. This weekend I watched a tiny minority of my colleagues calling for a challenge. They were given vastly disproportionate media coverage for their small numbers. The majority of Conservative MPs, on both sides of the EU debate, do not want to see a change of leadership.
My colleague Andrew Bridgen was prominent amongst those calling for a leadership election. I like Andrew, and I respect him. He and I agree that the UK should leave the EU. He and I disagree on the matter of the leadership of our Party. With the greatest respect to him, we have been here before. During the last Parliament he took a similar position. He was wrong then and I believe he is wrong now. Andrew Bridgen and his fellow travellers being twice as angry does not make a change of leader twice as likely. I see no new names calling for change, just those we have heard singing this tune many times before.
It was only just over a year ago that David Cameron won an historic election victory, as the first Prime Minister in living memory to increase his Party’s vote share. My majority in the marginal Stockton South went from 332 in 2010 to 5046 in 2015.
Our Prime Minister is an electoral asset. The minority of my colleagues who forget that, and who play the man rather than the ball, need to pause for thought. There is much we need to do in government, not least ensuring we continue our work to bring the deficit under control.
Even more significantly we are now faced by a Labour Party that would, more than any time since perhaps the early 1980s, be a real threat to the future of our country. It is perhaps a feature of the weakness of the opposition that our own internal debates get so much attention. But anyone who believes Jeremy Corbyn cannot win takes a huge risk with our future. If you were doing an analysis of the threat of Labour government you might conclude that the likelihood has gone down, but the potential impact has gone right up.
We have a duty to deliver on our pledges from 2015 and to finish our work from 2010. We have a duty to keep our country on the right path and to ensure we do the best for our people. This means we have a duty to keep Labour out in 2020. David Cameron is an asset to our Party in this regard. I am sorry that he has announced his intention not to stand in 2020 and hope somehow that might change. Whatever happens over the next four years though, we must stick together and work as one team. Once this referendum is decided we must unite and deliver the change this country needs. MPs might be able to afford fun and games of this sort, the people we represent cannot.