He began, as is customary, by giving a whistle-stop tour of his constituency which, he noted, he conducted himself during his three years as parliamentary candidate by bike – “following the instruction of the former Member for Chingford (Lord Tebbit), and more recently the example of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister — perhaps the only time that they have agreed”.
He then proceeded to express his frustration at how his rural constituency has been failed by the statist model of recent years:
“My constituency has come of late to feel increasingly marginalised, however. Tackling that sense of marginalisation in order to unlock the talents and aspirations of its people are, and will remain, the central theme of my work as its MP. The people of Mid Norfolk feel marginalised by the decision-making process and too often forced to change in ways that they have neither chosen nor like. The small, local, voluntary and rural is all too often crowded out by the big, national, professional and urban. As reported this week, rural Britain has been especially hard hit by unemployment during this recession, and my constituency has pockets of rural deprivation which are often hidden and invisible to the passer-by. Pensioner poverty can be especially invisible.
“Post offices, pubs and village shops close, while more and more people are forced to commute increasing distances from the mass housing estates that have been forced on our market towns and councils. In my three-year candidacy I insisted on another way. Opposition Members might call it a third way, but we call it the Norfolk way: a vision of a vibrant rural society based on a renaissance of rural enterprise; smaller pockets of mixed housing spread more fairly and sustainably; fast-growing small businesses and jobs back in our villages and towns; less commuting; a richer mix of ages; and blue and white-collar jobs in active communities.
“Some may ask, “Where are those new jobs and businesses to come from?” Let me tell the House. Situated between Norwich and Cambridge are two of the world’s leading centres of scientific research and innovation in food, biomedicine and the clean technologies of which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spoke earlier, all of which are so vital to the global challenges that we face, Mid Norfolk is perfectly positioned to become a hub of entrepreneurial activity and new jobs. With the world-leading John Innes centre, the Institute of Food Research, world-class agriculture and high-tech engineering along the A11 corridor, we can lead those new economic sectors on which we will increasingly depend.
“As someone who came to politics after a 15-year career in creating new technology businesses, I hope to be able to put my experience to good use in that area. However, that revolution cannot happen without two essential things: new models of investment in infrastructure, including the A11, rural broadband and rail links; and some local leadership.
“The stale post-war model of statist centralisation and dependence on the Whitehall handout has failed Norfolk and needs replacing if we are to have a sustainable recovery. The benefits of this empowerment and liberalism will not just be economic. Rural Britain is, I believe, the repository of some important virtues that our modern culture has neglected: a deep belief in self-help and responsibility; an insistence that everybody in a community has a role, and the rejection of a shallow media culture’s obsession with celebrity; and a love of the small, the different, and the local. These are qualities that are deeply rooted in the English character.
“The people of Mid Norfolk sent me here to speak up for them, so I shall. My constituents, proud of those values, have found themselves increasingly powerless in the face of a tidal wave of legislation and “big government” from Europe, Whitehall, and unaccountable regional quangos. Many worry that our culture has been hijacked by an increasingly intolerant, politically correct “anything goes” multiculturalism which seems to have too little respect for the longer traditions of tolerance, personal freedom and responsibility embedded in our traditional heritage. By pumping the bellows of local empowerment, I believe that we can reignite the embers of a culture which can and should be allowed to coexist with metropolitan Britain, to mutual benefit.
“At the heart of this manifesto is a big idea: that citizenship is not forged through the dependence on the state as espoused by new Labour and its philosopher king, Anthony Giddens, but through the empowering act of the state granting responsibility to its citizens. That is the central idea which has brought me into politics as a Conservative, and which I am delighted is once again the idea at the heart of modern Conservatism and this coalition.”