Dr Phillip Lee is MP for Bracknell. He resigned as a Justice minister in June, in protest at the Government’s approach to Brexit. The below article is an open letter to Sophie Tyrrill, a young activist who earlier this week left the Conservatives and joined the Liberal Democrats.
I was moved by your article Why I left the Conservative Party and read it with sadness. I understand your position and realise that many liberal Conservative Party members will be wrestling with a similar dilemma.
I am writing to appeal to you to change your mind and come back home to the Conservatives. Most of us still hold your values and are fighting against those who would take us to the extremes. Because our values are the true values of the Conservative Party.
When I resigned from this Government I did so because I share your concerns. I was disturbed by the direction in which Brexit was taking us and frustrated because negative values infect our policymaking in so many ways. I worry that today’s Conservative Party could lead us to a dark place.
But this is not a reason to leave. On the contrary, it is a reason to stand and fight. And we have history and the future on our side.
As I explained in the speech I gave when I resigned, our party’s honourable past lights the way for our future. I am inspired by what Conservatives have achieved and ardently believe that the values that drove these heroes can guide us safely through an uncertain future.
Just look at the mark that Robert Peel and Edmund Burke made on their worlds. Look at Benjamin Disraeli who first wrote that “Toryism will … bring back … liberty to the Subject” and Lord Shaftesbury who ended child labour in mines and reformed factory working conditions. Sir Winston Churchill made the enthronement of human rights a British war aim in World War Two. And Margaret Thatcher’s commitment to individual liberty against autocratic rule was instrumental in bringing down the tyranny of Communism in Eastern Europe.
These are the people whose values I share. And their great tradition is one on which we should continue to build. Theresa May’s own vision when she first entered Downing Street – to fight the “burning injustices” in our society – is also worthy.
However, you raise valid points about the state of the Party today. Some of it is dominated by an extreme Brexiteer mentality and it is also being distorted by UKIP entryism. We are in danger of succumbing to populism – a right wing version of what Corbyn has done to the Labour Party. Part of the reason for this is that we have so few members.
It has always been the case that each generation has to fight for its own version of democracy. Once more, decent conservatives need to stand for what we believe in. We must not let extremists seize control of our future. We cannot have the only alternatives for Government being Corbyn-Labour or Johnson/Rees-Mogg Conservatism.
Instead, we need to shape a forward-looking Conservatism with answers to the challenges of the 21st Century and grasping the opportunities we have as a country. This means dealing with an ever-changing world; supporting aspiration, opportunity and individual responsibility; helping to create value and innovation; understanding that rights are balanced with responsibilities; supporting full emancipation of all women; supporting strong families and building resilient communities.
We should continue the Tory tradition of stewardship, looking after our people, our country and our planet so that we pass something better on to our children.
On Brexit, let’s do what is right and sensible and extend, suspend or revoke Article 50, offer a people a final say on Brexit, and avoid crashing out without a deal as some Brextremists seem to want.
It gives me hope that so many younger people are politically minded and I admire your dedication. That is what we need to create a better future for us all.
But we can’t do this if we abandon our principles when people disagree with us. When somebody says you should be a Liberal Democrat because of your viewpoint (as has also happened to me), I say that I am the true Conservative – why are they bringing extreme views into my party? We must not turn away.
So please, Sophie, reconsider your decision. We need you – and others like you. Come back home to the Conservatives and help to put a modern, global, liberal outlook back at the heart of the party. Fight for what you believe in, and for a better future for Britain. We represent the silent majority. We mustn’t fail our country again. And I, for one, will welcome you.
Dr Phillip Lee