Being a local candidate in a General Election must be rather like being a private soldier in the front line in some old-fashioned war. The very great and good rush around doing press conferences, touring factories, TV leaders’ hustings and all the rest of the paraphernalia which seems to go with modern elections. And I suppose that the very clever people in Conservative Central Office must know what they are doing.
Now Parliament has been dissolved, and the North Wiltshire Campaign is underway, I get a very pleasant feeling of being able to leave all that national stuff to them, and just focus on my own patch - every corner of which I know and love. Its all about posters (very important in my view - let me know if you have a good site in your front garden or elsewhere, and one will be dropped off to you); its about leaflets galore – hand delivered or via Freepost; it’s about knocking on thousands of doors to get a feel for what my constituents are thinking; it’s about visibility, walkabouts, and so much more. Once its underway its all good fun, and if you want to volunteer any kind of help, let me know.
I always take campaigning in North Wiltshire very seriously and fight for every vote. That seems to me to be my job, and my constitutional and democratic duty. So I take every letter and email and doorstep conversation deeply seriously. Yet North Wiltshire has never been at the cutting edge of party politics. I like to think of myself as the MP for all - of whatever party-political persuasion, or none. I have never thought that ‘everything the Conservatives do and say is good’, ‘everything Labour do and say is bad’. Most of politics is much more consensual than that; and I admire the strength of conviction of many Labour and Green politicians, albeit disagreeing with many of their conclusions.
The Lib Dems, by contrast, tend to be a bit lacking in the conviction stakes, and always have a distressing tendency to personalise everything. “Winning Here” has always seemed to me to be a pretty worthless, and nearly always misleading, boast. Their bar charts and bogus polls have recently been exposed in the national press. The reality is that 32,398 people voted Conservative at the last election, or 60.3% of the votes cast, a majority of 22,877 over Lib Dems and Labour who were more or less evenly placed with 17.7% and 17.5% of the vote respectively.
Of the 32,398 who voted for me, I like to think that quite a few voted for me as a hardworking local MP; but I am fully aware that most of them voted to get a Conservative Government. And I hope they will do so again. It will be either that or a hard-left Labour one, and a vote for any other minority party risks letting Mr Corbyn into No 10 by the back door.
I will be keeping up these circular emails at least once a week during the campaign. I recognise that they go to a variety of people who are not Conservatives. They will just have to put up with a bit of party-political stuff over this crucial election, and look forward to a more consensual approach thereafter. After all, if you don’t like it, you can always hit the ‘delete’ button.
With all best wishes for a peaceful and civilised campaign.
When you come to cast your vote on 12 December a mass of conflicting thoughts will no doubt be swirling through your brain. To some, this election will be all about Brexit. To others, it will be about who runs Britain- our schools and hospitals, our economy, our foreign affairs and defence and so much more. It may be about the personality of the two Prime Ministerial contenders - Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. To some (I hope) it may be rest on the personality of the local candidate.
Well let me try to help clarify your thinking. First and foremost, I am standing as your long-serving and hardworking local MP, wholly committed to serving the interests and the people of North Wiltshire. And I hope that I am right that even those of a different political persuasion to me would readily accept my claim to be a constituency MP above all else.
Second, I am a Conservative; and if re-elected I will help form a Conservative majority government. That has huge merit in its own right - Boris has announced a whole string of bold and innovative policies. 20,000 more police on our streets; up to 40 new hospitals and more spent on the NHS than ever before; equalisation of state grants for schools, which will greatly benefit Wiltshire. It is only because of the careful Conservative stewardship of our economy since 2010 that we can now afford such welcome increases in spending. I would view it as one of the greatest catastrophes imaginable if a hard left Government run by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonell and Diane Abbott were to put jobs and livelihoods at risk and be allowed to wreck the economy again.
Third. Let’s be clear. A vote for any of the minority parties, or independent candidates, is in effect a vote for Jeremy Corbyn. In marginal seats, and even here in North Wiltshire, a vote for the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems or the Greens, risks a Labour victory. The Lib-Dems in particular might well form a pact with Labour in order to get power. This is a generational battle between freedom loving Tories and hard left Labour. We cannot risk a Jeremy Corbyn government, which might well be the result of a vote for any party other than the Conservatives.
Fourth, as someone who has supported leaving the EU for a long time, an incoming majority Conservative Government will enable Brexit to be finally delivered, which is what 17.4 Million people voted for. There is much that is wrong with the Deal which the PM was able to negotiate with the EU. But it is the only means by which we can leave the EU, and we must now join hands in supporting it. I do very much respect the opinions of those who were opposed to leaving the EU. They have a great many sensible views, which we must take into account. Most of them would agree, nonetheless, that we could not now go back cap in hand to the EU and ask to be readmitted. What a humiliation that would be. Most sensible Remainers would agree that the outcome of the Referendum demands that we must now leave, even if they themselves have reservations about it.
I have an old election leaflet from my predecessor Captain Cazalet (MP 1923-1942) which reads: “Your support is asked for Captain Cazalet. The Conservative Candidate. The Man you know. No wild promises, but a record of performance and a policy of steady progress.”100 years on, that message still rings true. I am offering no wild promises but steady progress. A common-sense Conservative majority government which will lead our country forward to a new solid, bright future having left the EU; a block on the designs of Jeremy Corbyn with his extreme policies, but above all a record of hard work for and commitment to the people of North Wiltshire, and a promise to go on doing just that.
I am writing this (and technology permitting) you will be reading it, on Friday 18th October. The PM has come back from Brussels, having secured (against all of the predictions of the Remain-leaning pundits) a new deal from the EU. There is still much which is less than perfect about it. But it removes some of the most obnoxious parts of the Theresa May deal - especially with regard to the Northern Irish backstop (although I am disappointed that the DUP are not supporting it), and with regard to defence matters.
At all events, of one thing I am certain: It’s the best that we are going to get. I hope that we secure a majority for it in the House tomorrow and I personally will most certainly be voting for it. If we do not, there will be no better deal, and we will very probably not leave the EU at all, thereby destroying all public credence in the democratic process itself.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats seem determined to block the Deal. The Liberal Democrats, of course, espouse a second referendum instead, nonetheless making it clear that whatever the outcome of that Referendum, they would oppose it unless it happened to agree with their own pro-EU views. “Let’s ask the people, but only pay any attention to it if they agree with us.” How Liberal. How Democratic. Labour, so far as I can understand it, say that they would renegotiate Brexit, hold a ‘confirmatory referendum’ and then campaign against whatever it is that they have negotiated.
Yet I come across very few people who would relish the notion of a further six months of division, uncertainty and rancour as a second referendum is fought over. It would be divisive and inconclusive; it might, of course, land us up precisely where we are now. The time for discussion is over. The people voted; we have secured the best deal that we possibly can. The House must now vote for it, and we must proceed to put the necessary legislation in place to leave the EU on 31st October. If they do not do so, then we must have an immediate General Election, during which they may well be hard oppressed to explain their actions to the electorate.
So let’s just get on with it.
Was it vaguely flattering to be called to speak in the House of Commons this week by Mr Speaker Bercow as “James Gray, a sort of Gandalf figure”? He was (unwittingly perhaps) accurate, since in the Hobbit, Gandalf is known as ‘Gandalf the grey.’ But I will graciously accept the intended accolade and its hints of aged wisdom and great leadership, with all due modesty, and without speculating as to whether the soon-to-depart Speaker is himself a bit of a Gollum?
For having secured a Deal, (which to the purist Brexiteer may be less than perfect, but not as bad as Theresa May’s), our Frodo Baggins Prime Minister was all set to have it approved at the special sitting of the House last Saturday, and to press ahead with it this week. But Gollum then allowed Sir Orc Letwin to scupper that idea with a Remainer amendment. Undeterred, Frodo secured a general acceptance of the Withdrawal Bill at Second Reading by a handsome majority of 30, only to have the essential timetabling which would allow it to become law frustrated by the Orcs. (Enough Hobbit references, ed.)
So as I write there is a great debate at the heart of government. The bolder element would have us declare an end to it all with an immediate General Election. They argue that even if we gave Labour more time to scrutinise the Bill, the risk is that they would wreck it by amendments, and/or delay it even further. “Labour are in disarray”, they would argue, “but they might get themselves sorted out if we give them time to do so.”
The more cautious wing of Prime Ministerial advisers urge caution. “We have got a reasonable Deal; you got a record majority at Second Reading of the Bill, so let’s now find time to debate it in full even if that means a few weeks’ extension to the 31 October deadline for Brexit. If the Remainers really do try to wreck the Bill, that’s the time when we can go to the people and ask for their endorsement.”
It’s the old debate - weighing up the merits of urgent and dramatic action against caution, reason and steadiness under fire. I personally also feel uneasy about some of the logistics surrounding an Election on 12 December - problems with the new Electoral Register, closeness to Christmas, poor weather are but a few of them.
So Gandalf Gray calls on the PM to celebrate having got as far as we have with his deal and Parliamentary approval of it; allow, however, as much more time as may be needed for proper consideration of the detail of the Bill, while always reserving the right to pull it if its opponents seek to wreck it. That would secure Brexit, and Frodo Johnson could then then go to the Country for approval of it in the Spring.
The Quest of the Ring may otherwise start to look like a piece of cake by comparison with getting Brexit over the line.
We’re in the eye of the Brexit Storm. Further turbulence is due over the next couple of weeks with the EU Summit, the sitting of Parliament on Saturday, the votes on the Queen’s Speech and Halloween all rushing up at us at breakneck speed. (The good news of 31 October will be the end of an era - as Mr Speaker Bercow, the President of the EU Parliament’s new best friend, stands down.)
The Queen comes to Parliament on Monday to lay out the legislative programme for the year ahead, although few of us expect it to happen this side of a General Election. She will arrive with the full panoply of state ceremony, always assuming that XR allow her carriage through. (I’d have thought real horsepower might be preferable to a carbon-guzzling Rolls Royce.) I must say, they were very polite in the various interactions I had with Extinction Rebellion last week. I rather support their agenda, but just wish they could make their point without putting everyone else in London to such inconvenience.
By contrast, I attended a thoroughly civilised debate on Climate Change and the Environment at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy last Friday. People there made their views very plain, and I agreed with most of them. However I do wonder about the use of the expression ‘Climate Emergency’. Surely an ‘Emergency’ is an event to which there is an immediate and urgent remedy. The house is on fire, so we evacuate and call the Fire Brigade. There is realistically no such immediate, obvious and dramatic solution to our Global Carbon crisis. That means that when we meet this time next year, it may well be hard to discern much urgent change. You can’t have an indefinite Emergency.
Leaving semantics on one side, I was also glad to take part in a debate in Parliament during the week on Amazon fires and deforestation, and then to chair a very full debate on Climate Change and the Net Zero Target. Those debates - and that in RWB Academy - may have been prompted by the XR activists glueing themselves to lorries outside; but that does not necessarily justify their behaviour, which, had the Police not countered it so effectively, have actually prevented Parliament from meeting to discuss their concerns. What an irony that would have been.
For the first time in 23 years I am to spend this weekend in Westminster attending the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (always assuming that the delegates from all over the World can actually get there through the protestors.) Events in Syria are a true Emergency. The Turks, who are members of NATO are attacking the Syrian Kurds who are supported by the Americans and Brits, also of course NATO members. Get this one wrong and the whole Middle East could very easily be engulfed in warfare, which would make Brexit and Climate Change look insignificant by comparison. That is truly an Emergency, and I am happy to give up a Wiltshire weekend to discuss it.
Brexit is an Emergency. We have days to sort it out; and we must make sure that we get it right. Our votes in Parliament, our negotiations in Brussels, have an immediate and crucial effect on our futures and our belief in democracy. Syria is an emergency, and I hope that our NATO debates over the weekend may help to damp it down at least a little. Climate Change is just as (or arguably more) important; but it is, prima facie, less of an ‘Emergency.’
© 2019 Promoted by Nick Botterill, on behalf of James Gray, both of North Wiltshire Conservatives, 12 Brown Street, Salisbury SP1 1HE.