Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
Each summer, the veteran Conservative Norfolk MP and my fellow One-Nationer, Keith Simpson, prepares a suggested reading list for all of us as we prepare to spend time on our sun loungers. But since this summer recess is essentially just a pause in the Brexit process rather than a proper break, I’d like to offer seven additional points for other MPs to reflect on between now and late August.
1. UK politics is in a bad place. As the nation’s elected representatives, the Commons, and by extension Ministers, are struggling to come up with a response to the EU referendum. Solving this problem in the context of our representative democracy is something we are all equally responsible for. Words such as treason, betrayal and the enemy have become far too commonplace. Both main parties are almost irretrievably split, but in totally different ways.
2. The anti-semitism in the Labour Party is truly chilling. Just read Daniel Finkelstein’s recent Times column in which he records how difficult writing some of the words in it were for him personally. The Momentum takeover of Labour is almost complete. Who will follow John Woodcock out of Labour?
3. The EU fault line in the Conservatives is visceral and now fully revived. For many of us, the Prime Minister’s capitulation to the ERG amendments on the Customs Bill, which were intended to fatally undermine the Chequers proposals, was a watershed moment.
4. The centre ground of British politics is vacant. The demographics of the UK are changing. There are now 1.4 million people now on the electoral register who weren’t there in 2016. We know that anyone under the age of 47 was more likely to vote Labour last year than Conservative. Their views and attitudes aren’t changing in a more pro-Conservative direction as they get older. Appealing to older voters and UKIP-inclined voters is not a long-term strategy for the Conservative Party. Millions of people now identify with no mainstream political party. If we have an early general election, who do they vote for?
5. I’m not the only one concerned with what is happening to the Conservative parliamentary party. But taking to Twitter isn’t enough. That isn’t where parliamentary votes are won or lost. MPs who hold ministerial office obviously can’t vote as they please. Others can weigh up their word and their votes much, much more carefully. I hope they will.
6. Some in today’s Conservative Party are missing the fact that we are a pro-business and pro-enterprise Party. That doesn’t mean never criticising business, nor failing to ask it to do more for the people of this country. But does mean that Conservatives should understand how businesses start up, how they grow, how they employ people and how they trade. Businesses contribute to our economic success. And if we fatally undermine our economy, or turn a blind eye to its fate during the Brexit process, then the Conservative Party will write itself out of the political history of the UK.
7. Almost every other policy is subservient to Brexit. Only when a major international storm, such as events in Syria or the Salisbury poisoning happen do we get a Brexit respite. Whitehall is consumed with Brexit and has almost no band with to deliver on any other substantive reforms. The long-awaited green paper on social care reform was promised for summer 2018, now we are told it will be in the autumn. Those who think we can ‘just do Brexit’ and then talk about other things are deluding themselves. Even Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted that Brexit won’t be done for 50 years. In any event, apart from Brexit, there appears to be no coherent overall narrative to what the Government is trying to do whilst in office – even the ‘burning injustices’ and the ‘just about managing’ don’t get a mention anymore.
I recently sent a constituent a link to my last ConservativeHome column. He wrote back and said “I read your article as suggested, interesting stuff. I was though horrified at the racist and homophobic comments made in response, plus the personal attacks on yourself. To think people hold such views is a real worry.” This is what ordinary people see when they look at us now.
There is an after-dinner joke which speakers use when speaking to local Party associations – about new born kittens who, after a few days, open their eyes. The speaker draws a contrast between Labour supporters who keep their eyes closed in order to pretend the world is as they imagine it to be, and the Conservatives who have their eyes wide open to deal with the world as it really is.
There are far too many Conservatives at the moment whose eyes are shut and whose fingers are crossed as they hope for ‘something to turn up’. Happy holidays.