James Brokenshire is Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and is MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup.
One of Conservatism’s great strengths is its wariness of dogma. We are uncomfortable with its constraints, its blindness and its totalitarianism.
Instead, we are comfortable with history and its nuance. The lessons it teaches us about ourselves and society. About where we come from, the choices that have brought us to where we are and what this tells us about the present and future.
Indeed, at our core is a breed of pragmatism, allowing us to recast our political message to reflect the needs of the world we see around us. We are comfortable with the practical and objective. We see that the duty of each generation is to pass onto the next an inheritance worth preserving.
These are noble ideals. Essential values which define who we are. But on their own they aren’t enough to win hearts and minds. We need more to win an intellectual and emotional battle that will rage long into the next decade and beyond.
If there was doubt before, there can be none now. We are fighting some forces on the left of politics which aren’t only wrong-headed, but actually dangerous. Their starting point is an ideological dogma that begins with the view that the sum history of our progress as a society isn’t one of community and togetherness, of sacrifice and gain, of failure and success and all the twists and turns that this has wrought, but simply of war within it.
There is no common purpose to be forged voluntarily on that basis. Only imposed. You watch it with the Corbynite left on social media, you read about it at their constituency party meetings. And you see it in the flesh when Labour MPs need police protection to attend their own party conference and finally, sadly, come to the painful conclusion that the Party they’ve spent a lifetime supporting no longer reflects who they are or the values they believe in.
In response, we Conservatives we need to convey our idealism and be confident in it. We need ideas at a scale commensurate with the challenges we face. In particular, we need to recognise the importance of place and belonging in our policies and messages.
The pride drawn from saying “I’m from here and this is my home” isn’t something parochial or small, but utterly essential to understanding how the modern world is making a sense of place more important, not less. Because the modern world can atomise us, it can leave us feeling ever more connected and yet never more alone.
And this is a deeply political sentiment because ‘place’ is a universal idea. We can make many choices in our lives, to do or not to do certain things, but one of the things we can’t choose, is that we are all from somewhere.
Since 2010 we have done more than any other party to give power back to people and places through initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and metro mayors. Giving people a sense of ownership of and confidence in their places.
But these changes in governance should be the first phase in a more radical agenda for place: a new unionism. And this new unionism shouldn’t just be about the relationship of the four nations of our United Kingdom, but about the relationships between the towns, cities and regions within and between them, too.
Because we are country of dual identities. Our units of solidarity are multiple, from the family, to the street, through to the city and beyond. I am both Essex boy and Londoner, English and British.
We all feel that sense of belonging in different ways and on many different levels. But without doubt the most all-encompassing bond is our Union. It is a precious inheritance we must preserve for future generations.
Recent history, whether through the Scottish independence referendum, calls by devolved administrations for more power and autonomy or through the challenges posed by Brexit, and specifically the important place Northern Ireland has within our country, have posed questions about the future of the union. These must be answered with confidence.
It seems clear to me we must make the case for a new unionism, and explain more readily the value and meaning of being a citizen of our United Kingdom. The rights we have, the values we share, the benefits we enjoy and the duties we owe. These should be things that not only we cherish, but that people from around the world aspire to have, too.
Only the Conservatives are able to offer this sort of national renewal. A new unionism.