Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
2017 has been a long and eventful year in politics and I, for one, can’t wait for the Christmas break to arrive. It is customary at this time of year to adopt a reflective pose and consider the lessons learnt in the last 12 months before all the resolutions for 2018 are unveiled. So here are my top five lessons from 2017:
- Brexit is going to happen. The question is how. For my part the ‘how’ means that we should neither damage our economy, ride roughshod over our constitution nor undermine our values as a country. There have been times this year when it looked as though we might do all three. However, the Prime Minister showed in her deal with the EU this month on that progress can be made if everyone keeps talking, and she ignores the most extreme voices of the Brexit debate, who hope to undermine any and all progress, and lead us to a hard Brexit. The stage is set in 2018 for early talks on transition – and then further negotiations about the ‘deep and special partnership’ the UK will have with the EU after March 2019.
- Voters want to hear about more from us than Brexit. They were told in April that the election would be a Brexit election. But it turned out to be an election on social care, education funding and public sector pay. Many ministers are making important but mainly unsung announcements at the moment. Michael Gove is proving, however, that a reforming Secretary of State can grab attention. The Conservative Party has to show we are about more than Brexit in 2018 or we won’t get an audience at all;
- Party conference fringe events demonstrated, as I wrote on this website in October, that members understand the need for us to change. And they are, as I said then, fizzing with ideas about how we can do so. They want to help make the case for capitalism and free enterprise, and they won’t accept being side-lined in the future, whether that is about choosing the next leader, putting forward ideas for our next manifesto or helping to shape the next election campaign. CCHQ is responding positively and consistently to the calls for stronger campaigning and more effective digital communications, although we clearly have much more work to do on these.
- Values and principles matter. It isn’t enough to have great policies. People want to know what our motives are and they are looking for authenticity in their politicians. We need people to be clear that we are talking about aspiration, social mobility, mental health, education, housing, animal welfare and lots of other areas, not because a focus group told us to do so but because they matter to us, personally, and we aren’t prepared to put up with the status quo. Last week has also deepened my understanding of why principles matter, and why it is worth defending them however difficult things get. And that some people, despite saying they like MPs with principles, actually only like those with principles that they agree with. Which leads me to my last point…
- Politics in 2017 has been extremely rough. Whether it was Momentum targeting Conservative candidates during the general election, the routine trolling on social media, the ‘mutineer’ Daily Telegraph headline or the calls for de-selection, death to Brexit traitors and compulsory loyalty tests, something is going badly wrong in our democracy at the moment. The Prime Minister’s tweet at the weekend condemning those inciting hatred and violence was a start. The Commons is expected to debate these issues later today. But the fault lies with those politicians, newspapers and commentators who accept no responsibility for the consequences of their words. Those who turn a blind eye to judges being called enemies of the people, members of the Lords being called saboteurs or MPs who dare to suggest amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill being called mutineers are playing with a fire which will eventually consume them as well. Violence, intimidation and threats are no longer confined to the fringes of our politics – and at the end of 2017 it is the poorer for it.