On the 30th of June 2016 Dr Liam Fox MP announced his candidacy for the position of leader of the Conservative Party
This country has just undertaken one of the most momentous political decisions in our history. During the referendum I urged those involved to conduct the debate with courtesy and civility. I hope that this leadership contest will be carried out in the same spirit and I would like to thank at the outset my colleagues who have given me their support and their loyalty.
The events of last week have left many on both sides of the argument feeling bruised and uncertain. If we are to heal the divisions created by the referendum on our EU membership we must fully implement the instruction given to us by the British people.
So let me be clear, I do not believe there is room for membership of the single market, if it entails free movement of people. Those who voted to leave the EU would regard it as a betrayal, and frankly they would be right.
We do not need to be part of the single market to sell into it; countries like the United States managed to do that very well. It is in our mutual interests to have a free and open trade relationship with our European partners but we cannot accept the concept of free movement of people as its cost.
It is right that we should put our national interest first. But we should do it in a way that cooperates wherever possible with our European partners in our mutual interests.
At the same time, we must have no truck with some of the more xenophobic and racist views expressed in recent days – they have no place in a tolerant and decent society and it is the duty of all of us to disown them. The referendum ignited understandable passions on both sides, but they should never be an excuse for abhorrent sentiments. It is our duty as a nation to meet them head on, to show that Britain will never reject the world or its people.
I believe that the events of last week have ushered in a new dawn for our country. We must approach it in a spirit of confidence, optimism and hope.
We are not leaving the EU – we are re-joining the rest of the world. We have always been an outward looking and forward-looking nation. In fact, the era of globalisation could have been written with us in mind.
In a competitive global economy, we have enormous natural advantages. A system of law, including commercial law that is admired across the whole world. We have a skilled workforce, low levels of industrial disruption, low regulation, low taxation, some of the best universities in the world, we speak English and we are in the right time zone for global trading.
We need to lift our sights and recognise these natural blessings that we have.
We are a well-connected nation, well-placed for the flexibility and agility that the 21st century will demand. We are the world’s fifth biggest economy and members of the G7 and the G 20. We have the world’s fifth biggest defence budget and lie at the heart of NATO, with a special relationship with United States.
We are at the centre of the Commonwealth and have unique historic relations with countries around the globe.
We have enormous strengths, and this is the time to play to those strengths.
I first joined the Conservative party at the very end of the 1970s when Britain was in a very different state to that which we enjoy today. I did so because I believed that the Conservative party offered genuine freedom and opportunity. It didn’t matter what your parents did or what school you went to, which part of the country you came from or what kind of house you grew up in.
That mattered to me, in west central Scotland, as someone who came from a very ordinary background and who went to one of the biggest comprehensive schools in the country. And believe me, you didn’t join the Conservative party where I grew up if you wanted to be a career politician!
I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have two careers that I have loved – the first as a doctor in the NHS and the second as a Member of Parliament. Some people say that to give up a medical career to become an MP is bit of a waste – I disagree.
Not only do I believe that our current politicians are drawn from too narrow a range of society, but I believe that training in a profession such as medicine allows a real sense of perspective. Someone with a cardiac arrest, let me tell you, is a genuine crisis; critical comments on social media are merely an irritation. Understanding that difference really matters.
I have worked as a hospital doctor, a GP, a minister at the Foreign Office, shadow health secretary, chairman of the Conservative party, shadow foreign secretary and Secretary of State for defence. Each of them has for me been an enriching and learning experience – and I believe that experience matters.
All these those influences have shaped the political views that I hold.
I believe in a genuinely meritocratic society where we understand that the first rung on the ladder is the most important one.
Aspiration must be king, but we must recognise that poverty is not simply about the lack of material wealth. Poverty of aspiration and poverty of hope are destructive powers in even the wealthiest societies and we must always be on our guard against them.
I believe that we have a moral duty to help those who cannot help themselves but not those who will not help themselves, which is why I believe that we need to continue welfare reform so that it is genuinely targeted at those in greatest need and where those who are able to help themselves are encouraged and assisted to do so.
And we must ensure a fair balance between generations, so that those who have contributed a lifetime of work to our country are properly looked after without placing an undue burden on the young who have as much right as their parents and grandparents to be part of a property owning democracy with the ability to get on the housing ladder while avoiding penal rates of taxation.
I’m also a capitalist – but not a corporatist. My capitalist heroes are not the big bankers who pocket bonuses whether or not they are successful, but the corner shop owners and the small businessmen and women who make sacrifices throughout their lives, including family time and holidays in order to pass something on to the next generation. I believe that innovation, talent and effort must be rewarded and that our economic system must reflect these values.
Finally, I am, and always have been a committed Unionist. I believe that the integrity of the United Kingdom has been key to all that we have achieved. I have no problem with being proud to be a Scot and simultaneously proud to be British. But we will have to defend our precious union from the forces of nationalism who would sow the seeds of division amongst us.
To be patriotic is to have pride in and loyalty to a nation. Nationalism all too often has its roots in the hatred of others. We must never allow those forces to destroy what generations have fought, married and moved to achieve.
As a nation, we have developed and exported ideas of individual freedom, the rule of law and the democratic process. We must defend those ideas today as much as ever before.
We must be willing to boldly proclaim that our views are not just different from, but better than the alternatives. For example, in relation to fundamentalist Islamism our ways are better- better to have religious tolerance than violently imposed orthodoxy, better to have a concept of universal rights than not, better to have societies in which women play a full and equal role with men.
Likewise, when it comes to the issue of immigration, where our country has a proud tradition, we must be willing to tell the truth. If we celebrate merely the diversity in our society, without celebrating commonality and all the things that unite us at the same time, then we will end up not with diversity, but fragmentation.
But ideas, however important, are never enough on their own. We must have the proper policy prescriptions to put our values into action and to deal with the problems faced by our country and our people.
In healthcare, for example, as a doctor I want us to end our obsession with the structures of health provision and focus more on making patients better. We need to deal with the drivers of health costs if we are to be able to make ends meet.
But it is not just policy change that I want to see. I also want to see changes in the structures of government itself, not least out there in Whitehall, creating a more efficient and effective system and I will set out more detailed ideas on this later.
Let me also just remind ourselves that while this is a leadership contest that will provide us with a new Prime Minister, it is also about the leadership of the Conservative Party. The principles of meritocracy that ought to apply to the whole of our society must also apply to our party in parliament and our government. We must ensure that talent is rewarded and not which dinner party you attend or the social circle in which you mix.
There is too much unused talent on the government benches at the present time, and that must be rectified. Likewise, if we preach the language of democracy, then we must apply it to our own party. I would like, for example, to explore the idea of a directly elected Conservative Party chairman, so that our members feel they have a genuine voice in the seat of power.
I hope that this leadership contest can help unify our party and our country for years to come. There are so many reasons to be optimistic. We live in a land of opportunity, in a world of opportunity. Last week the British people made clear how much they value our freedom. Freedom that was forged in the heat of our history, snatched from the hands of tyrants and defended against dictators. It is, and remains, our most precious asset. We should never forget that we live in a special country. It is time to feel special again.
There is so much that we can achieve. For our country. For each other.
Politics has become too much about we the politicians, not about the people we are elected to represent.
For what is any country but the sum of its people? Serving them can be a great challenge but, more importantly is a truly inspiring situation in which we find ourselves, and very often a real joy.