By Tim Montgomerie
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In paying tribute to Robert Halfon MP I should first declare an interest. He's been a very good friend for more than twenty years. He was the very first person I met at Exeter University when we were both undergraduates there. Two other members of the 'Exeter mafia' were David Burrowes and Sajid Javid – both good friends and both also now Tory MPs.
Paul Goodman and many others have referred to Rob's role in campaigning for the decision that George Osborne took yesterday – to stop the rise in petrol duty. Rob has been on this campaign for some time and has worked with The Sun and Petrol Promise to stop other fuel duty prices that were planned by the last Labour government. Some of Rob's campaigning has been public (including via ConHome) but it has also been patient, strategic and much of it behind-the-scenes. He did, for example, take a large lobby of about 25 Tory MPs to see the Chancellor. He also organised rounds of questions in the Commons and a special Westminster Hall debate.
In my own opinion Rob is a political genius and he puts that genius to good work. He fought the Essex new town seat of Harlow twice before he won it at the last election. Through that campaigning he understands and serves what the tabloids call Essex man. Few Tories understand blue collar/ working class Britain better than him. In many ways he's a traditional Tory with orthodox views on tax, crime and Europe for example. But he also understands that that isn't enough. Rob is committed to the NHS, better schools and a cleaner local environment.
He constantly challenges some in the Conservative Party to leave their comfort zone. He wants us to put more resources into ground war campaigns and make better use of the internet. He wants the party to build better relations with moderate trade unionists. He warned against cutting the 50p tax rate. He also happens to be a very decent guy, liked by colleagues and opponents. I've said all of this before but some things deserve repetition and Rob deserves a big role in the future of our party.