I warmly congratulate my friends and constituency neighbours, Andrew Murrison (South West Wilts) on his well-deserved promotion to Minister of State at the Foreign Office, and Robert Buckland (Swindon South) to the Ministry of Justice where I know they will do a fine job. It makes me the last backbencher of all seven MPs in Wiltshire.
I enjoyed my time on the frontbench in a variety of jobs in Opposition, but I have since then relished the freedom which not being a Government Minister allows me. It was good last Friday, for example, to be able broadly to agree with those attending a business dinner in Castle Combe in their robust criticism of the PM, of her failure to deliver Brexit, and in a number of other grumbles. It was good to see the Wiltshire Federation of Small Businesses in Parliament on Tuesday, and to be able to agree with quite a number of their criticisms; and to rather relish my colleagues, John Glen (Salisbury) and Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) having to spin the Government line, uncomfortable as it may have been for them.
It was good to welcome the Deputy Chinese Ambassador to Parliament to tell us about China’s ambitions in the Arctic, which I could not have done as a Minister; and to be able to speak up in Parliament on Wednesday to welcome the new Secretary of State for Defence’s determination to bring in a Statute of Limitations on alleged crimes carried out by soldiers in pursuit of their duties, but to notify my intention to try to amend her Bill to cover Northern Ireland veterans as well.
Being a backbencher enables me to speak up for the people of North Wiltshire, and for my own personal beliefs whether or not that happens to coincide with Conservative Party policy; and as a bit of a natural rebel, or even controversialist, I welcome that freedom.
I also strongly support the age-old British constitution, under which the Government of the day delivers on its Manifesto policies, with Parliament scrutinising everything which they do. On Brexit, for example, it is the Government’s duty to deliver what the people demanded in the referendum; it is Parliament’s duty to scrutinise how they do it, to keep them up to the mark, and generally hold their feet to the fire. Parliament is split more or less 50/50 on Brexit, thereby accurately reflecting the general opinion of the country. When the PM brings back her proposals in the form of Second Reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the week beginning 3 June, I will consider very carefully whether or not it delivers a true Brexit; or even if it does not, whether it may nonetheless be our last chance of securing any kind of Brexit at all. I will keep you up to date with my thinking on all of that when we see the text of the Bill.
So I am pleased for my ambitious colleagues across Wiltshire as they climb the greasy pole. Confucius was of the view that “it is better to be at the bottom of the ladder looking up, than at the top of the ladder looking down,” as a number of other colleagues may now be finding as they ponder sackings or resignations. For myself I am glad to have the buccaneering, freebooting freedom to do what I believe best, no matter what the Tory Whips may say. There’s a lot to be said for being the last of the Mohicans.