When I was bold enough to admit in a Column a couple of weeks back that, while I do not necessarily support what he did, I stood by Owen Paterson as an old friend, my admission was greeted by shrieks of condemnation by a few tooth-suckingly self-righteous, holier-than-thou correspondents. They would rather jump on the passing bandwagon of disapproval and condemn Owen as if he were a mass murderer than give him the safeguards of natural law. It is my experience that friendship is more important than self-righteousness.

I was honoured yesterday to welcome 150 of the soldiers, airmen and civil servants who carried out the brilliant evacuation of Afghanistan known as Op Pitting. Led by the Band of the RAF they marched through the Carriage Gates of Parliament to be met at the Great North Door of Westminster Hall, (through which the Duke of Wellington passed on his return from the Battle of Waterloo) by the Prime Minister, Speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords, First Sea Lord and perhaps a thousand Parliamentarians from both Houses and staff from every corner of the Palace. It was a truly great celebration – a welcome home and thank you - to those who carried out one of the bravest and most difficult of military operations; and who did so with fantastic professionalism, efficiency, and above all camaraderie. Soldiers do what they do for their Queen and Country, for the officers who order them to do it, but above all for their comrades in arms. Their mates. That is why the British Regimental system works so well.

The human instinct to side with your comrades at arms is also responsible for the Party system in Parliament. The easiest truism in the world comes from those who decry the Party and the whips, since MPs “should put their country and constituents before all else”. Of course we do. Yet of the 32373, or just short of 60% of the people of North Wiltshire who voted for me in the last election, giving me a massive majority over both Labour and the Lib Dems, I am realistic enough to recognise that relatively few voted for me personally; most simply wanted a Conservative Government. It is therefore my duty to do what I can to deliver the principles and policies of the Conservative Party to them. Only some overwhelming constituency interest, or some issue of personal conscience would normally allow or encourage me to deviate from what the rest of my party are doing. Those MPs who habitually rebel on almost everything are arrogantly presuming that their own views are more important than the views of the people who elected them in the first place.

Human beings are herd animals, birds of a feather who flock together. We are most comfortable with those who are similar to us - from the same country, school or college, Church or social group, our family and friends; those who hold similar political, religious or social opinions to ourselves. That is a natural human instinct; and it provides the very sinews from which a happy society is born. Friends and family are more important than almost anything else.

Those whose best friends are their fellow human beings will sleep easy in their beds at night. He whose best friend is himself will have only his best friend to blame for his aching loneliness.

Like most men, my multi-tasking skills are a bit limited. I do manage to keep a fair number of balls in the air: Parliamentary and constituency, military and Polar interests; writing; home life. I have no paid outside interests bar a few fees for speaking, completing Ipsos Mori questionnaires and similar minutiae (all declared in the Register of Members’ Interests). And I do maintain a reasonable number of unpaid interests- Trinity House, the Honourable Artillery Company, Royal Geographical Society and so on. It’s a pretty full-on diary. So I have to admit to a degree of admiration for my colleagues who seem to be able to maintain outside jobs- as doctors, lawyers or business people as well as their political duties. If my modest plate spinning activities are complex, theirs must be positively heroic.

But then, to look at it another way, in addition to their Parliamentary and constituency duties, the very great in politics- PM, Cabinet Ministers, Speaker of the House of Commons - are also running the country. If you want a good job done give it to a busy person; and all MPs are hyper-active workaholics. Not only that, but I do actually think that if we can have farmers, lawyers, business people who are also MPs, then we are bringing some very useful expertise to our discussions. If we were to ban outside jobs, in a knee-jerk reaction to Owen Paterson, the Commons would soon become populated by a gang of life-long political anoraks with no real knowledge of the outside world.

What’s more, while I do not claim to be struggling on an MPs salary it is a great deal less than many people at a similar stage in their careers- head teachers, rural solicitors, senior military people or the like. Not only that but ours’ is also the only public sector profession where there is no salary progression with age and experience. We are paid precisely the same on Day One in Parliament as we are after 30 years. So I do not resent some of my colleagues’ efforts modestly to supplement their Parliamentary wages. I support what is now being proposed- that MPs should not profit from their position by advising companies on Parliamentary or political matters; that the amount earned outside, and the time take to earn it, could perhaps be capped in some way; and reiterating that there most certainly must not be any kind of paid lobbying (which has been illegal since 1685!). But I would be concerned if this turned into some kind of puritanical witch-hunt aimed at eliminating outside interests altogether.

We Parliamentarians like nothing so much as discussing ourselves as we have done over the last couple of weeks. Yet while we fret over whether or not Theresa May should be allowed to earn a lot of money for making speeches (as Trump so memorably remarked- “I would pay a lot of money NOT to have to listen to one”), there are dramatic and important events all around us to which we may not be giving our full attention.

Cop26 (a success, or a bit watered-down?); the very real potential for military incident in Belorussia and Ukraine; the changes to the post-Covid economy (will inflation be allowed to run away?); all of these and so much more have been obliterated from our front pages by juicy stories about MPs’ business interests.

Parliament and politics and the media have become personalised, introverted and downright unpleasant; we are allowing ourselves to slump into the mud-slinging and name-calling which brings our honourable profession and workplace into disrepute; and we risk stoking up the passions which led to the tragic murder of Sir David Amess, only a few weeks ago. We must get back to decent, sensible, intelligent, well ordered discussions about those great events. That is what Parliament is for, and it is what we must now do.

There’s something eerie – spooky - unsettling about this time of the year between Halloween and Remembrance Sunday. Halloween of course is associated with witchcraft, ghosts and ghoulies; followed by All Saints Day and All Souls Day when we remember our dead. The clocks change and the days get shorter; leaves fall from the trees; the harvest is over (largely) and the nights are drawing in. I have always felt that the Equinox also heralds all kinds of momentous - or tragic - events. There are more unexpected deaths, Stock Exchange collapses, untoward events of every kind during these few weeks than at any other time of the year.

In Parliament we had the Budget (which by and large seems to have been welcomed by all but the most rigorous of Conservative thinkers who dub it a ‘Giveaway Budget’ more akin to our Socialist predecessors). We have had a tremendous fuss about an imagined vote to allow raw sewage to be discharged into the sea. In reality it has been greatly reduced since the privatisation of the water companies; and we are continuing to work on replacing the 180,000 miles of pipes which will be required to guarantee that not a drop of contaminated water will find its way into our rivers. I was not allowed to vote because I chaired the Bill Committee; but had the luxury of telling correspondents that I would have supported the Duke of Wellington’s amendment on the matter, (its Ducal origins disconcerting some of my more vocal lobbyists.) I welcome the Government’s U-Turn on the matter (or would U-bend be more appropriate?)

Through all of this we have the momentous events of the G20 in Rome followed by an airborne cavalcade of World leaders descending on Glasgow, using up hundreds of tons of carbon, for COP26. As a committed environmentalist, I wish it well. We really do have to find a way of constraining Global Warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which will involve dramatic cuts in carbon and methane emissions; an end to commercial deforestation, especially in the Amazon, and so much else. Whether all of that will necessarily be achieved by tens of thousands of people descending on Glasgow may well be another matter. I have a funny feeling that some of them are there to see and be seen rather than necessarily to do very much about it all - as Her Majesty so memorably commented under her breath. So instead, I asked the Prime Minister a question about COP26 with particular reference to the Arctic in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

I was asked to go to Glasgow on Friday; but partly through some scepticism as to whether or not my presence would actually add very much to the deliberations; and partly because I have my little grandson for the weekend for the second time in a year; I am in Wiltshire instead, saving a few Carbon miles into the bargain.

As we remember my colleagues David Amess and James Brokenshire, and as I attended a beautiful memorial service for a former colleague and environmentalist, Peter Ainsworth; as we mourn the death of our lovely old lurcher, Noko; as we look forward to Guy Fawkes night commemorating the burning of the plotters who tried to blow up the House of Lords; as the chilling autumn mists swirl around our darkening streets; let us focus on the good things in our lives – which for me will be my little grandson, Freddie.

In the turmoil of the last couple of weeks we could all take a lesson from Her Majesty the Queen for whom ‘Duty’ has been a guiding light through all the years of her reign. As Wordsworth has it “Duty, the stern daughter of the Voice of God….” Those of us who choose to be in public life; but also all who provide a public service - in the NHS, as a clergyman, teacher, public sector worker of any kind -may well do our job it because we happen to enjoy it, get a degree of personal satisfaction from it, or are merely just rather good at it. We most certainly do not do it not for the money, nor the glory, nor for personal advancement. Behind it all lies that stern daughter: Duty.

I stood by my friend Owen Paterson throughout his Parliamentary ordeal not necessarily because I approve (or disapprove) of anything he may have done; but because he has been my friend for 25 years or more. This week I have been much engaged with Remembrance Services - a lovely little service with the Luce Family in Malmesbury Abbey last Saturday in commemoration of 100 years of the Royal British Legion; in Parliament opening Mr Speaker’s Garden of Remembrance and then at the Guards Chapel with MPs and Peers who served in the Armed Services; at that famous War Memorial in Royal Wootton Bassett on 11/11; and I will be in Cricklade, Blakehill and Malmesbury on Remembrance Sunday. I enjoy them all and am pleased to be there; not least to remember and wonder at the sense of Duty which our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women set as an example to us all.

Then on Thursday I was pleased and honoured to be asked by the family of my old friend Nick Fry to read their tributes as a Eulogy at his funeral.  Nick was a Chippenham baker (but he used to drive my election battle bus more like a racing car than his baker’s van); he was a leading light in football and rugby throughout his life; he was a district councillor and a parish councillor and took an active part in almost every aspect of life in Chippenham until he and Eileen moved to Hullavington 10 years or so ago. Nick made use of his skills as a baker (and the best Lardy cakes in Wiltshire) in all of his charitable and sporting events. He and Eileen gave of their all; not for any kind of thanks or personal benefit; but because they felt it was their duty - their calling perhaps - to do so.

At other times this week I had meetings with the Chair of the Wessex Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; visited Bradon Forest School in Purton; had a meeting with Cricklade councillors on planning matters, and a meeting with the South West Local Enterprise Partnership; I had my booster jab in the excellent Yatton Keynell surgery and held surgeries in Box and Royal Wootton Bassett. All of these things happen because those involved realise it is their duty to give service to the public.

So in all of the discussions about MPs’ second jobs (I have none), lobbying, alcohol, and the rest; let us try to be modest in our criticisms (remember Sir David Amess); let us avoid party political mud-slinging; let us eschew the merry sport of taking potshots at MPs or people in public life. But above all let those of us in the public service try to remember that perhaps we do what we do because we enjoy it; but above all we do it in obedience to that stern daughter - Duty.

I seem to have been spending a lot of time with the Wiltshire Constabulary of late – and no - I am not behind bars! I have been very impressed by the whole experience.

In the aftermath of the sad killing of Sir David Amess, all of the Nation’s Police forces have perhaps unsurprisingly been reviewing individual MP’s security arrangements. I was very impressed not least by the depths of research into my personal surroundings and history they had carried out. My home and office were duly and very thoroughly inspected.

I am glad to say that the outcome of the enquiry came to pretty much the same conclusion as me - namely that I am a very low risk indeed. In my 24 years as your MP no-one has ever once so much as called me a rude name. That’s not the way we do things in North Wiltshire. Disagree with me as much as you want - I rather like that as it stimulates my thought processes and guides me as to how I will vote and speak in the House. But do it respectfully - which I am very glad to report everyone does.

Nonetheless, I welcomed the very discrete attention of PCOs Kelly and Monique outside my surgery in Cricklade. It was all very quiet, so we repaired to the excellent coffee shop in Malmesbury’s Town Hall, which occasioned some pleasant amusement from the other regulars. “I see you’ve got your cops with you, James.” In an absence of rioting, I thought I would pack up early, and my two escorts busied themselves with a passing citizen nursing an injured Little Owl as he took it to the vet. That’s how things are in this area.

That evening I was driving home after a dinner and encountered an old friend of mine slumped over the wheel of his car, which had careered into the ditch. Two of us were able to manoeuvre him onto the tarmac while others applied CPR for the 10 or 15 minutes before the first police and ambulance crews arrived. The sheer professionalism of the way in which they took over from us, controlled the traffic, secured the area, and even cleared up afterwards was a sight to behold. There must have been at least 20 people involved, and a variety of vehicles including the Air Ambulance. We all pray that my friend will recover. He will owe an enormous amount to the brilliant professionalism of all of our blue light services.

We are always too quick to complain in this country; but it is only when you truly need their services that we come to realise how very lucky we are to have these professional, discrete, well-motivated and superbly equipped professionals looking after us. Wiltshire’s Finest indeed.