Am I still a Conservative?
Some people in the Grantham and Stamford Conservative Association are questioning whether I am still a Conservative. Leave aside that some of them were members of UKIP until very recently. Many have been Conservatives for a long time and they deserve an answer.
It is 30 years since I first campaigned for a Conservative candidate in a parliamentary election, and 20 years since I first stood for election as a Conservative candidate for my local council. Throughout that time I have believed in a conservatism that is modern, moderate, open-minded and outward looking. I have wanted my party to be guided by liberal instincts, and inspired by progressive goals while also drawing on a deep well of conservative pragmatism and common sense.
As an MP I was proud to support a Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, who introduced gay marriage, enshrined our commitment to give 0.7% of our national income in aid to the poorest people in the world, and recognised climate change as the biggest long term threat to our prosperity and security. But who also cut public spending to bring down the deficit, reformed the benefit system to ensure that work always pays and renewed our commitment to an independent nuclear deterrent.
As a minister in the coalition government I took on the Nimbys and drove through reforms to the planning system to increase housebuilding because it’s outrageous that we have allowed house prices to rise out of the reach of most people in their 20s and 30s. Was that Conservative? As a minister in the majority Government that David Cameron formed after the 2015 election, I pioneered the introduction of the apprenticeship levy so that larger employers are forced to invest more money in giving people who choose not to go to university the technical skills that will equip them for a life of fulfilling work. Was that Conservative?
I am still the same person as I was when I was first selected as the Conservative candidate for Grantham and Stamford back in 2007. The same blend of egghead and hedonist, of country boy and metrosexual. Just with less hair.
So I have a question for the members of my local Conservative association. Twelve years ago you selected me to be your parliamentary candidate. You thought I was a Conservative then.
Am I conservative enough for you now?