Michael Tomlinson is MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole.
During the last week in Westminster, passions have been running high in the Conservative Party, and the debate about Brexit is at fever pitch. Despite voting Leave and my keen involvement in the debate, I know that I did not come into politics simply to debate Britain’s EU membership. There is no doubt that it is our job to ensure that Brexit is done; is done properly, and that we leave successfully.
But the people have spoken, we are coming out of Europe, and those of us who want to help shape the future now need to look beyond Brexit. Of course we must ensure that we are a global nation trading with all corners of the earth. Absolutely. And if we fail to get it right, we will be punished at the ballot box.
However, it is not good enough just to be talking about our relationship with the EU when our opponents claim that child poverty will rise under our watch. It is not good enough just to be talking about it when care leavers are five times more likely to be excluded from school, and five times more likely to end up in prison than their peers. It is not good enough when nearly eight out of ten young offenders sent to custody go on to commit yet further offences.
Now is the time to lift our eyes and raise our expectations. What does a modern, compassionate and Conservative future look like? How can we best support the poor, the vulnerable and the sick; young people trying to get into work; or victims of crime – and even criminals themselves?
Modern Compassionate Conservatives
Why is it that we go into politics? Almost all politicians, of whatever stripe, go into politics for the right reasons: to help shape our communities and our country for the better. Of course, politics is less of a job and more of a calling, and I believe that our aim as politicians – and in particular as Conservatives – should be: to help the weak, the poor, and the vulnerable to reach their full potential, whilst enabling the strong to grow and flourish.
This is where we need to be as a Party: speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and for the rights of the poor and the needy, whilst letting the strongest get on and prosper. There should be a golden thread running through all of our policies: everyone must be treated as unique, individual human beings, able to flourish and fulfil their God-given potential. All of our systems, all of our responses, all of our energy must be channelled in that direction and must acknowledge that truth. This is the way we Conservatives should respond to poverty, to the most vulnerable. We are not looking to create a client state, which is the rather patronising view from the Left, bu rather to enable people to help themselves.
During and immediately after the 2017 election it was said by our political opponents that the Conservatives had run out of ideas. This is of course complete nonsense, and there is an abundance of clear thinking coming from our Party. But the last election did highlight the importance of ensuring that all of our parliamentary talent is used, both in constructing, devising and testing policy, and also in persuading the public.
It is clear that we failed to get our message out sufficiently, because that there was a superficial attraction towards Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. And there still is. We need to set out clearly our modern conservative response to the age-old problem of socialism, and Corbyn’s particularly Marxist brand of socialism. For I believe that his politics is a real threat to our country, and has not had a sufficient or sustained challenge to date.
But it will not be enough, and nor is it right, simply to resort to personal and ad hominem attacks. Yes, his ideas and proposals are dangerous. Yes, I believe that they would be a disaster for our country, and that must be clearly set out. But equally those policies must be met with our positive ideas of what we believe this country is and should be about.
As passions run at fever pitch and Brexit risks consuming our Party, we need to show equal and even greater passion as Conservatives about the importance of social mobility, and far more vocal support for a modern, compassionate conservatism.
So let us embrace such issues as poverty, the family, prisons and young people. Not because we believe them to be vote winners, or the key to electoral success. In and of themselves they are not. But we do so because as Conservatives we care about the most vulnerable in our society, about opportunity, and because they will help not only individuals, but their families and communities as well.
And as we leave Westminster behind this summer, concentrating on social justice will be a welcome break from Brexit.