I was naturally sad to leave the government in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle and did not want to do so, but we all understand in politics that ministerial office is entirely at the discretion of the Leader. The Prime Minister was entirely entitled to pick his own team and I wish him and them well and they will have my full support from the backbenches. It was a particular pleasure to be able to set up and run the Department for International Trade where I worked with some of the best people I have encountered in my 27 years in public life.
As the excitement of the leadership contest abates, however, the basic truths of our current predicament will re-establish themselves. The first is that the Parliamentary arithmetic will not change and we will continue to have a minority Conservative government whose primary stated aim is to leave the European Union but a parliament that wants to remain. We need to get away from the concentration on the 30 or so Conservative MPs who voted against Theresa May’s deal which would have seen us exit the EU four months ago (and have avoided the resurgence of the bricks at party at the European elections) and concentrate instead on the 240 Labour MPs who have consistently voted against Brexit, despite being elected on a manifesto pledge to honour the referendum result. Labour’s insistence on playing politics rather than implementing their own promises is one of the more shameful elements in our current national life.
The second truth that needs to be repeated is that the government’s mandate remains the same as it was before the leadership election for that mandate came from our manifesto in 2017. Mandates for governments do not come from internal party elections and any new mandate can only be validated by the British people at a general election. This should not bother the new Prime Minister one jot and should give no comfort to those who seek to undermine his authority to leave without a deal if necessary. We have been very clear, including at the last election, that no deal was better than a bad deal and if that becomes the unavoidable conclusion of any future negotiations then so be it. I voted on three occasions for the Prime Minister’s deal because I believe that leaving with an agreement was the preferred option, but those in the Labour Party who made that course impossible have made no deal more likely and they have to carry their share of responsibility for that if it occurs. Conservatives should miss no opportunity to remind voters of the consequences of Corbyn’s uniquely inept brand of leadership and Labours casual betrayal of its own core voters.
The third truth is that we are still at the foothills of achieving the sort of fiscal balance that we need to have and so any new spending commitments will need to be put on hold. I pointed out to constituents who came to see me recently complaining about tight school budgets that we are still spending around £50 billion per year of taxpayers money on debt interest, not least because of the last Labour government’s financial incontinence. The longer we take to achieve a sustainable balanced budget the more debt we will lay on the next generation with unavoidably higher taxes and reduced economic opportunity. Sound money is not only one of the key belief sets of the Conservative party but one of the key differentiations between us and a Labour Party that would happily spend today and leave the debt to the young people of tomorrow.
Essentially this government has only ever had two main tasks – to deliver on Brexit and to prevent the odious leadership of Corbyn and McDonnell from ever holding the reins of power as the government of the United Kingdom. In my time as Trade Secretary we regularly asked overseas investors what they feared most about domestic British politics. Brexit would score between three and 4/10 while fear of a Corbyn Labour government would score above eight – and remember that this is at a time when foreign direct investment into Britain is at an all-time high, supporting tens of thousands of new jobs each year. They see the potential horrors of a dogmatic left-wing nationalising government that would put at risk all Britain’s current economic stability. Far beyond our shores they are seen for what they are – anti-wealth, anti-American and anti-Semitic. Millions of decent, patriotic traditional Labour voters share that sense of horror. Therein lies the challenge for the new Conservative leadership – to provide an optimistic and confident Britain with an outward -looking and inclusive Conservative party that can provide an electoral home to those appalled by Labour’s current leaders. The theatre of the Conservative leadership contest is over. It is now time for all Conservatives to come together to deliver what our country needs – a successful Brexit and the crushing of Corbyn’s Labour.