Earlier this week, the big-thinking but kvetching Times columnist and Conservative Home founder Tim Montgomerie announced he was leaving the Conservative Party. He gave his reasons for leaving the Tories being the party’s failure on deficit reduction, immigration, inequality and the Prime Minister’s EU charade. Given Tim’s long time disdain for David Cameron I wasn’t particularly surprised by his announcement, but I did sympathise with some of his reasoning. However, I hope to show through this article that the EU Referendum is a historic opportunity for a great renewal of the party. By not abandoning the party but rather fighting as a coalition of patriotic “Leavers” we can reform it to be Thatcher-esque again.
Before getting into issues regarding EU I wanted to touch on one of the criticisms where I think Tim is being completely unfair to the Conservative Party. That issue is inequality. It has been the Conservative led coalition and then Conservative majority governments that produced the biggest jobs boom in British history. There is record employment thanks to Iain Duncan Smith’s working inducing policies of cutting welfare benefits and encouraging work. The Chancellor even went further than I would have gone by introducing a higher minimum wage (“living wage”- though not quite to the American left’s proposed standard of $15 an hour for all jobs regardless of age) of £9 an hour by 2020 for those over 25. Before they raised the minimum wage it was Tim himself who was complaining that the Tories didn’t introduce a “living wage” (though it has been shown to have the opposite effect on employment- see Seattle, Washington, USA) and when they decided to gradually introduce one this year that doesn’t seem to have deterred his belief the Conservatives are lovers of the rich at the expense of the poor. What would Tim exactly propose they do to further reduce inequality? Skyrocket the top rate of income tax? Increase corporate tax? Start seizing property like Mugabe does and Labour proposed? It was his (and my own) hero Margaret Thatcher who cut taxes for all earners in the 80s that brought Britain out of its 1970s terminal decline. Further it was Winston Churchill who said taxing a nation into prosperity is like lifting yourself into the air by standing in a bucket and lifting the handle.
No, my problem with the current Tory government is how they have often disgracefully behaved since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. David Cameron is so fond of saying how he is going to name and shame everyone well let’s “name and shame” him and his Machiavellian Chancellor for a second. How dare you Dave, in a cheap attempt to get centrist Labour supporters and homeless Liberal Democrats, use a party conference speech to insinuate that employers in the UK are a bunch of racists and sexists. How dare you accuse Oxford University of being racist when they already do the reporting system you want to legislate against them. Those are groundless and cheap insults that quasi-capitalist but PC Blairites and Cleggites might like but they are truly offensive to the good job creators up and down the country.
Furthermore, how dare George Osborne abandon the tax credit cuts passed three times by the House of Commons and against centuries of precedence vetoed by the House of Lords and instead penalise mainly Tory supporters with a higher stamp duty tax and possibly be planning to raid pensions. How dare he slap Conservative activists in the face who worked so hard to get a majority by so far actually slightly increasing the rate of taxation, after correctly cutting it on average 2 percent over the course of the coalition to turn around the British economy to be the success she is today. Tim was absolutely right to point out the current government’s obsession with wooing these centre-left voters who are currently homeless due to far-left Corbyn and the collapse of the Lib Dems. Frankly, I don’t want those people in the Conservative Party unless they want to embrace conservative ideals- I would prefer to get back the “white van” people Emily Thornberry sneered at. It was the aspirational working class that was the key to Thatcher’s electoral dominance and today many of them are in UKIP. Remember, in 2015 Conservative and UKIP won combined a majority of popular votes at the general election and that the Conservatives won the election on a traditional message of economic competence. Abondon your centre-ground pandering Cameron, we want a proper Conservative government. You and your government did a wonderful job in the coalition- reforming welfare, education, cutting taxes and reducing the deficit- time to return to serious government. And the most serious government issue at the moment is the EU.
The elephant in the room is that the EU and not the Conservative party, is the source at the heart of Tim’s dissatisfaction on the deficit and immigration. You cannot bring immigration numbers down when the EU has free movement of people and the UK is its most successful member nation. It’s impossible. The Conservatives have brought non-EU immigration down but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the waves of EU migrants coming to the UK to work. That’s what makes Cameron’s EU migration benefits curb such a farce- people are coming because they know they make a lot more money working in the UK compared to their poor home countries like Bulgaria and Poland. Thus, any talk of controlling immigration really just amounts, like Cameron’s renegotiation itself, to tinkering around the edges.
The EU further effects the deficit which makes any Chancellor’s job extraordinarily difficult. Consider the costs– the UK sends weekly £350 million to the EU which amounts to nearly £20 billion a year, every single year. The UK puts far more in than it gets back: between 1973 and 2014, the UK gross contributions were £484.2 billion, in 2014 prices, while net of money received back our contributions over the period totaled £157billion. The UK has now paid over £500 billion to the EU, a figure which amounts to one third of the national debt. And it’s not just the direct contribution that strains the pocketbook of the UK taxpayer- EU citizens use the NHS for free. EU immigrants children increase the cost of schooling on the country. Their large numbers make already strained housing more scare and more expensive. While I am not saying that balancing a budget is impossible- far from it there are plenty of areas more to cut- it is very difficult when the EU is such an expensive club to be a member of and immigration strains government services and causes the population of such the island to swell.
Why then do I say, with all this gloom and doom about the EU, insulting activists and Cameron’s shameless attempt at hoodwinking the British people over a fake deal would I support the Conservative Party? For me it’s quite simple: it was the Conservative Party who gave the people the EU referendum and it is Conservatives that will lead the country out. And of course, on the whole as I wrote for Conservatives for Liberty, they have been beneficial to the country since returning to power in 2010.
Yes I know, that the threat of Nigel Farage and UKIP had a role in forcing Cameron to back a referendum. But remember- it was David Cameron and his government who called this referendum and put it into law. If Conservative voters would have defected to UKIP at the 2015 election or stayed home Ed Miliband would be Prime Minister and there would be no referendum. Furthermore, while there are people in other parties, mainly UKIP and the DUP who back Brexit- if the United Kingdom is to leave the EU it will be because Conservatives made the arguments to convince the country.
Two Thirds of Conservative party members, approximately half to a majority of Conservative MPs and a “magnificent seven” of Tory frontbenchers back Brexit. Among the magnificent seven- Boris Johnson is the most popular politician in the country with its biggest democratic mandate and Michael Gove is probably the country’s most intellectual leader. Furthermore, Conservatives have the machinery in Fleet Sheet writers and activists on the ground to make victory possible. Frankly, UKIP is regarded as toxic by most of the country but Conservatives are the nation’s largest party. While of course I prefer as much help from other parties as possible (with the possible exception of any “help” George Galloway can provide) currently there are only 9 confirmed Labour MPs backing Leave and then the eight DUP and one UKIP MP who currently backing Leave. If there is going to be a Brexit- it will be due to the Tories.
Frankly, I’m very excited about the future of the Conservative Party. While I am not of the opinion that David Cameron should resign following the EU referendum, I look forward to what a Boris-led Conservative party and United Kingdom will be like in the future. He is a brilliant man of vision and the perfect ambassador to the world to represent the United Kingdom in its new global role. I further look forward to IDS continuing his work on bringing social justice through encouraging work and for reading a British Bill of Rights crafted by the Lord Chancellor Michael Gove. I can’t wait until rising young eurosceptic stars like Priti Patel, Penny Mourdant, Dominic Raab, Andrea Jenkyns and Adam Afriyie are shaping the course of the sovereign United Kingdom- seasoned and rewarded for their role in leading the country out of the EU. I look forward to addressing Dan Hannan as MP and seeing the likes of the ultra-articulate Jacob Rees-Mogg and brave Steve Baker sitting on the front bench. And I look forward to the next mayor of London- another Tory eurosceptic backing Leave- Zac Goldsmith.
Now is not the time for leaving the Conservative Party- it is for supporting the brave Conservative men and women in guiding the country to life outside the European Union.