Priti Patel is MP for Witham, and a former Secretary of State for International Development.
Our Party is the greatest and most successful political Party in history. Nowhere in the world is there a political party with a better record of success at being democratically elected and running Government.
There’s a reason for that. It is because our values chime with those of the British people. Therefore, as someone who is first and foremost a Conservative activist, I like many others feel the anger and frustration of our members and supporters with what is now happening over Brexit. Having come together to support the referendum that we promised in our 2015 Manifesto, we then outlined a clear vision for our future outside the EU while having a close and equal partnership. We took it to the people in 2017 and, while we suffered a difficult and bruising result as we lost our majority, we polled more votes and secured the highest vote share in a generation.
Even after that shock, we still pulled together and performed well for a governing party in last year’s local elections. We were buoyed by what we saw as the Government’s determination to fulfil its promise to the people and take us out of the EU on 29 March -with a deal agreed with the EU or without.
Like others, I believed from what the Government said that the national interest would be defended and the referendum result delivered. Acting in the national interest is fundamental to our DNA as a Party, and when a Conservative Government is standing up for the national interest it motivates and inspires all of us activists to knock on more doors, deliver more leaflets and raise more money.
However, since the deal with the EU was agreed, the attempts by the Government to impose it on our country have caused a level of anger that I have not seen in my 30 years as an activist. And the more Ministers become entrenched in their positions, the more our members are becoming dissatisfied and despondent. I believe that the capitulation to Brussels of the Government and the lack of faith in our democracy, freedom and country displayed by others has caused huge damage to our grassroots alongside the political games in Westminster which have sought to undermine the referendum result.
While Ministers get questioned by journalists in the comfort of TV and radio studios under a tight time limit, with a series of lines they can reel off, our volunteers and activists bear the brunt on the doorstep. On cold and wet mornings and evening they are out there knocking on doors relentlessly campaigning to get the Conservative message across and candidates elected in crucial council elections. And, on the doorsteps, wherever I have been, the state of Brexit has been just about the only subject voters want to speak about. Our activists want to persuade the public to vote in vital local elections to help us win councils and deliver good quality local services. But instead they are left to pick up the pieces of the great betrayal taking place in Westminster.
This week, the Government’s effort to do a deal with Jeremy Corbyn has made their mood even worse. Those of us who were angered by the feeble negotiation with the EU are now livid because the Government is trusting a man who sides with the terrorists who attack our national interest, has let anti-Semitism run rife in the Labour Party, allows Labour supporters to launch vile attacks on us and would wreck our economy. This does not serve the national interest, and it is a huge political error to give Corbyn a voice and credibility when he has consistently flip-flopped on the EU and on Brexit.
We should never forget that while our country suffered the horrors of terror caused by the IRA, including the attack on our Party Conference in 1984 and the brutal murders of Conservative MPs, Corbyn was a terrorist sympathiser. Our members, volunteers and activists are doing all they can to keep this dangerous man and his vile allies out of power only to now see the Government start a love-in with him. The fact that the Government has fallen so out of touch with the mood of our own members is astonishing.
Now is the time to fulfil our promise to the people and leave the EU. We can and should do this on Friday – no more excuses, no more tricks – just Brexit and the unlocking of our country’s freedom and our democracy. Leaving the EU on Friday would help us to bring the country together as well as galvanise our activists. We would deliver our promise on the biggest political issue we face. We can then the focus on the many other issues where Conservative policies are needed and which excite and animate our activists.
A renewed focus would also mean that the Party centrally ends the distain shown to our members. I have in previous articles on this site given my views on how the Party nationally should renew and trust the grassroots through genuine reform of the membership, electing the Party Chairman, hosting policy forums and holding a members day at Party conference.
Our members, like the British public, want to see a Conservative Government standing up for our country. They also want to see a it stand up for the values which we believe in – freedom, enterprise and opportunity. Those values are shared widely by the British people and resonate with them. We must enshrine them into the policies we pursue at a national and local level. Over the last eight years, we have introduced many reforms to help people to succeed. Raising the tax-free threshold to cut tax bills for millions, cutting taxes on business, keeping fuel duty down and supporting investment in businesses has helped our country establish a record number of businesses, supporting record numbers of people in work.
That record has never been more important than in the current political climate, when our country faces the threat posed by militant left-wingers. Socialism would reverse everything this country has gained from the 1980s on. The Conservative achievements of the last eight years, including record levels of employment, and the number of business and enterprise created, would be driven away – our defences shredded, our pride diminished and our country bankrupted.
We would instead go back to an era of anti-capitalist slogans and placards which might grab headlines but do not transform lives, create jobs, provide better public services or raise Britain’s standing in the world. The upcoming electoral cycle should provide a strong platform to remind people of the very real dangers of the alternatives and to champion the cause of freedom in deeds as well as in words.
With our great country facing the threat of hard-left socialism from Corbyn’s Labour Party, we need to give the public powerful and strong reasons to vote Conservative and support the Party that backs freedom, enterprise and opportunity. We must believe in our activists and get behind our members and supporters. Let’s get Britain out of the EU on Friday, and energise our members with the Conservative values we share, to secure a better future for Britain.