Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
The silly season is clearly in overdrive this August, with speculation about the time having arrived for a new UK political party to be formed. This would be a very bad idea for many reasons. Just aks those who were involved in the SDP: are any of them saying that a new centrist party is a good idea? Or look at UKIP, now floundering after their platform has been taken away from them.
Brexit is a huge and shifting tectonic plate in the UK political landscape. It is undoubtedly challenging long-held allegiances and party relationships like nothing else I’ve known in my 28 years as a Conservative Party member. But a new party formed solely to deal with the Brexit fallout and then, supposedly, tying together moderates and centrists from existing parties would be a party which would quickly collapse under its own contradictions.
If one-nation liberal Conservatives listen to these siren voices, what would it say about the Tory Party we now have? To accept the argument for creating a new party would be to accept that the Conservative Party can no longer appeal to the British political centre ground. I refuse to accept that proposition. Because without that centre ground we can never hope to be a majority government again.
As someone who has had to fight, win and hold a marginal seat in the Midlands I know what it takes to win over those who have supported other parties and to build a broad coalition of local support. The same principles apply at a national level.
The Conservative Party is, and always has been, a broad church. There now appear to be some, both inside and outside the Party, who want it to become a narrow ideological shrine, appealing only to a narrow and ageing group of supporters. This does nothing to win over the average voter who doesn’t think about politics much but, when they do come to elect a Government, want a party standing on a platform of a sound economy, good public services, an effective and fair welfare safety net, a global outlook and committed to a strong defence capability.
If liberal Conservative MPs allow ourselves to be drummed out of the Conservative Party, whether by heeding the calls for a new Party or by accepting that our views no longer have a place within our Party, then that would send a terrible signal, not only to the electorate but also to the tens of thousands of Tory members, councillors, donors and supporters who share our views and want us to lead the charge in putting forward a mainstream agenda which appeals to the centre-ground of British politics and, in particular, to younger and future voters. And that number of activists and supporters is growing: just look at the surge in membership of organisations such as the long-established Tory Reform Group.
We have many One Nation Conservatives at the top of Government. They deserve our support as they undertake an incredibly difficult task – namely, to leave the EU whilst not fatally undermining our standing in the world and the economic gains which we have worked so hard for since 2010. Those of us who want these Ministers to succeed need to support them. We will push back internally when the ideologues call for those sensible and responsible Ministers to be sacked because they are trying to act in the national interest.
There will be disagreements about what ‘acting in the national interest’ means – particularly when we are working our way through something as huge as Brexit. But our history as a party is much, much bigger than Brexit and Europe, and our appeal must be much broader if we are to win a majority at the next election. The national interest now demands that we stop indulging in political and ideological fantasies about new parties and start focusing on how we shape the rest of the 21st century in which the Conservative Party should want to be in Government with a broad base of support in the country.