Last week’s Column was drafted before the appalling tragedy of Grenfell Tower, and so must have seemed unfeeling to some readers. What can anyone say about it? The sheer horror of being stuck on those upper floors is the stuff of nightmares; and the losses and hardship of survivors and the bereaved are appalling. We must all do what little we can to help – and I salute the Malmesbury Fire Station who are washing cars to raise funds. Societies truly come together at times like these to give each other help and support and love.
How sad it therefore is that a mad and bad man should think it some kind of duty to drive his van into peaceful Moslems leaving the Mosque as they break their Ramadan Fast. What kind of lunatic must he be to do such a thing? The Imam acted swiftly and well to stop any kind of immediate backlash. At times like these, we must come together, not force ourselves apart.
Negotiations with the DUP about forming some kind of alliance (which does not imply that we necessarily accept their social values which are at odds with our own); the start of the Brexit negotiations, the drafting of the Queen’s Speech to cover a two year Parliament – The PM’s In-tray is overflowing. And that is without touching on Mr Trump and his troubles, on Qatar, Mosul, Raqqa, Russia and a thousand other vitally important matters any of which could explode at a moment’s notice. Who would want to be PM? I would not do it for a Million pounds.
Two general elections, Brexit referendum, Trump, terrorist outrages, Grenfell Tower and so much else has left us all deeply weary. We need a period of peace and stability; of certainty and hope for the future. That is why I strongly support Mrs May’s efforts to refloat the Ship of State, to get life back to normal, to dampen down fires. Steady as She Goes. One thing we really do not need for now is any kind of leadership challenge or other seismic disturbance. Let’s get through to the Summer, get Parliament going, settle our frayed nerves, start to mend our fractured society. Now is not the time for any more excitements.
So I will be doing what I believe the electorate of North Wilts would want - that peace and quiet, stability and hope for the future. I will not be taking part in plots or gossip, which are rife in Parliament. I will be doing what I can round North Wiltshire (20 or 30 engagements since the Election so far), re-establishing my chairmanships, and my defence and polar interests in Parliament, and taking an active part in every aspect of Parliamentary life. But I will be rocking no boats. Call me dull, if you like, but that is my interpretation of what my electorate want, and also what is good for the country - a period of boredom would do us all a lot of good.
‘Rejoice, Celebrate; be of Good Heart and Great Cheer’ may well not be what you expected to read in my first column after what by anyone’s standard was a train-crash of a General Election. It was probably right to have called it, although there are arguments both ways on that one. The Tory Manifesto, its handling and explanation was a disaster in parts; Theresa May’s Presidential style of campaigning (and relatively wooden appearances – ‘the naughtiest thing I have ever done was to run across a farmer’s wheat field’) was asking for trouble, as was our underestimate of Jeremy Corbyn’s lifelong campaigning ability. We thought that the UKIP vote would come to us, but it seems to have been evenly split with Labour; we failed to foresee the national collapse in the Lib Dem vote, much of which is presumed to have gone to Labour; and we failed to engage properly with young voters, who flocked to the polls in their droves to ‘Vote for Jeremy’.
The result, of course, is not at all what we wanted. A number of good friends and colleagues from across the House find themselves without a job through no fault of their own (Ben Howlett in Bath, Neil Carmichael in Stroud and Charlotte Leslie in Bristol North West locally). We have a minority Conservative Government, which commands only a small overall majority supported by the Democratic Unionists (and there is a tricky read-across here to the current Ulster settlement discussions); we have a weakened (albeit for now surviving) Prime Minister entering some of the trickiest and most important negotiations for decades; we have less clarity about the outcome of those negotiations than we had hoped, and arguably a much weaker negotiating stance as a result of the tricky Parliamentary arithmetic. So not much to like about all of that, and a vast amount of work to do to try to put it right.
Yet we must not let the gloom obscure a few cheerful glimpses. We secured 42.4% of the votes cast, which is the highest since 1983, and not dissimilar to the votes cast for Tony Blair in his landslide 1997 victory. It’s just that we did not see the surge in Labour support coming. We have made great strides in Scotland, where we now have more MPs than any time since 1997, and we put the odious SNP back in their box. And tricky as it may be, we have a Conservative Government for the next five years rather than the Communist dictatorship bankrupting Britain which would have been the consequence of a Corbyn victory. And without immodesty, we have a great deal to celebrate here in Wiltshire. My majority at 22872 is the largest ever in the history of the County, the second largest in the South West; and it is reassuring to know that close to two thirds of the electorate supported me with their vote. I must have done something right.
So I would simply thank every single person who voted for me; and pledge to them and to everyone in North Wilts of all political persuasions and none that I will continue my hard work for all of you. The 32398 people who voted for me did so predominantly because they wanted a Conservative Government and all that that means for them. So I promise to do what I can in Westminster to make sure that they get it. What an honour it is to have been re-elected in this way, and I will do all I can to live up to your high expectations.
© 2021 Promoted by Nick Botterill, on behalf of James Gray, both of North Wiltshire Conservatives, 12 Brown Street, Salisbury SP1 1HE.