Why I am no longer a Conservative

 “At a time when we’re having to take such difficult decisions about how to cut back without damaging the things that matter the most, we should strain every sinew to cut error, waste and fraud.” – David Cameron

I have been a member of the Conservative Party since shortly before the former Prime Minister became its leader in December 2005. I joined because I believe in the central principles of promoting enterprise, sound public finances, sensible levels of taxation, upholding the law, value for money public services, self-reliance, and helping those who try first try to help themselves, providing that they possess the capacity. These principles are still ones which are incredibly close to my heart, and guide my actions in day-to-day life.

As a young man interested in politics, David Cameron became an inspiration to me. From his initial programme to modernise the Conservative Party in 2006, to his election as Prime Minister in 2010, I felt Mr Cameron represented exactly the type of change Britain needed. I was proud to serve as a central campaigner in a key marginal seat in the East Midlands, helping to deliver a Conservative Member of Parliament from the constituency in which I grew up and continued to live for a number of years.

I was lucky enough to be taken on by the Member of Parliament, and spent the best part of five years working for him. I am incredibly proud of the achievements that we made during this period, including: structural deficit reduction, which permitted faith in our economy, alongside private-sector led recovery; delivering same-sex marriage under immense pressure to u-turn; helping to increase employment in the local area through our work on the economy and jobs fairs; and helping to take our lowest-paid constituents out of Income Tax. I was as equally proud of the local Conservative Councillors who had held control of the district authority, and were very patient during their incredibly short period of opposition.

The departure of David Cameron

Moving on to the issue at hand, Mr Cameron had no choice but to resign in June 2016; if he were to stay on, the knives from the right would have immediately been out. He deserved the dignity of resigning from office as opposed to being pushed by the very people he led – or, in the case of the right, he appeased. Mrs May has an incredibly challenging job, which presented itself when the former Prime Minister resigned.

I note that the issue that the left sometimes take with Mr Cameron’s resignation is that it was not on their terms. It is a reflection on some on the left that they are still bitter about the 2015 general election.

Mrs May and the Lords

I have no doubt that Mrs May is able to deliver Brexit in the most sensible way possible. However, seeing her sitting to observe the House of Lords, when considering the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill became concerning to me. It was said by many that this was a sign of respect, and claimed that many prime ministers had done this in the past. I think many of us know that it was an attempt to intimidate. I have no support for an unelected upper Chamber, but while such a Chamber exists, it must be permitted to retain its constitutional protections.

The dismissal of George Osborne

I have deep issues with the sense that a competent Chancellor and communicator, George Osborne MP, was fired by Prime Minister May for committing the crime of telling the truth: That Brexit would hurt. We have since seen the Government very nearly almost break its pledges on National Insurance, to those that do the right thing, and to those who can’t do the right thing. The systemic issues with health in this country are simply not acceptable or palatable to me. The latest Budget was a delayed punishment Budget, which Brexiteers had said would not be necessary. Unfortunately, it quite clearly is, and it will not stop there.

We are seeing Sterling fall with no real rise in exports, rising inflation, and increasing pressure on Governmental departments – as a direct result of the decision taken last year. This will by no means be the end of the punishment, which the proponents of Leave said wouldn’t be necessary.

Who should pay the price?

It is so tempting to say that those who voted for Brexit should pay the price. The problem with this is that those who voted for Brexit, even by Iain Duncan Smith’s admission, were the “forgotten many”, who usually do not vote. Turnout tells us that this is the case. Those people are often those who need help in gaining skills, employment, and regaining their health. And, many of those who voted Leave are the people to whom the Leave campaign directly lied about additional NHS funding. They failed the people for whom they were apparently speaking.

For clarity, I do not believe that after Brexit has happened, that there will be any additional money for the NHS; instead, we will face a period of decline, from which we will have to emerge. This, in turn, will add pressure to public finances, not relieve it.

For those of us with interests in health policy, one example which I’d highlight is that that the previous Labour government created the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies scheme. This was based on a report by Lord Layard*, which advocated Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as the most cost-effective treatment for anxiety and depression. Accordingly, GPs are encouraging self-referrals to local IAPT services, which simply cannot cope with the amount of pressure that they are under. IAPT is unsuitable, but it has become so ingrained within the NHS service that it cannot be abolished. The previous coalition government paused and reflected as to whether it would be appropriate, desirable and deliverable to end such a scheme, and clearly took the decision that it was not deliverable.

I was a Remainer, but I am now committed to Britain obtaining the best deal out of its exiting the European Union. This is because, just like my fellow former members, I am committed to democracy. It would be an affront to those that Parliamentarians represent to ignore the will of the people. However, I am not proud of how this may be achieved.

How should we pay for it? 

I’m disappointed about what is happening to our public services in pursuit of Brexit at seemingly all potential cost. The average waiting list for a clinical psychology referral is two years; the average for a referral to a psychiatrist, six months; the average waiting list for real, effective psychotherapy is three years, if you’re lucky – especially in the Southern Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group area. Waiting times for all services are rising, and this is because the NHS is not receiving requisite funding. I make the point about mental health because it is something which I studied and am passionate about it finally being provided, in principle, the parity of esteem promised now by two successive governments.

Of course, I realise that the Labour Party’s offer to the NHS was lower than ours, but these are people’s lives, and lives should not be counted as beans. We allegedly have parity of esteem for both physical and mental health conditions; yet, quite simply, mental health is being ignored.

The NHS is under a tremendous amount of pressure. The HE sector is under a tremendous amount of pressure. NHS and Council Social Care are under a tremendous amount of pressure. We all know these things, but what is happening instead is that the Government has plucked a £60bn Brexit emergency fund out of thin air and prioritised that over delivering its other manifesto commitments, which are frankly just as – if not more – important.

We are able to borrow to invest in services that people need so much, as we demonstrated when we made it clear that fiscal expansion without punishing both the vulnerable and those that do the right thing would be possible in the July 2015 Budget, delivered by then Chancellor, George Osborne. In this, we demonstrated a commitment to proper investment, fiscal expansion and the implementation of the National Living Wage. We also saw sensible tax rises on those who could afford to pay more, without punishing those that do the right thing – which is a fine balance indeed.

Mrs May’s approach

I supported Mrs May in the leadership election and would have voted for her by holding my nose. The only other alternative was the vapid, right-wing Andrea Leadsom, who quite frankly would have made a total mess of the situation by now. Triggering Article 50 on the day of her success would have left this country in a mire.

“If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.

If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.

If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.

But the mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone means more than fighting these injustices. If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.

If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly.

I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.” – Prime Minister, Theresa May

These are all fine words indeed. We have made progress on ensuring that working class children obtain places in Higher Education institutions in Britain – under David Cameron. We have made waves in terms of supporting people with whom I identify and empathise – gay people, people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with it, people with disabilities – of which I am incredibly proud – again, under David Cameron. All positive steps that the Party had taken towards real social and economic development were made by Cameron and his cabinet at the time.

In her acceptance speech, Mrs May made various references to one nation Conservatism and fixing the systemic issues within our public services – especially that of the NHS. It is quite clear to me that, with her current Cabinet members – especially Jeremy Hunt – that these promises will never be delivered.

There are, of course, some DWP changes that I would have actively opposed given the chance (i.e. the cessation of the spare bedroom subsidy), but I can live with the fact that my minor part could not allow me to do this. I was, after all, not a Member of Parliament.

Dissonance or hypocrisy – and I’ve no idea which

Mrs May said in her speech to the Party in its autumn conference of 2016: “Time to reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and to embrace a new centre-ground in which government steps up – and not back – to act on behalf of us all.” My primary concern with this is that Mrs May is not leading a centrist government, unlike Mr Cameron; instead, she is leading one which would be described as just to the right of Margaret Thatcher’s. I have always have been a One Nation Conservative, forgiving a year-long flirtation with libertarianism in my early twenties. I am committed to the vision and policy of which Mr Cameron espoused as leader; Mrs May, on the other hand, is concerned with authoritarianism and personal hegemony, reminiscent of the control freak nature of Gordon Brown.

The decision I made

I have agonised over this decision for months, but I am sorry to say that I am no longer proud to call myself a Conservative.

I cannot remain a member in all good conscience: I simply do not accept that this is a government which, I had hoped, would be more dedicated to the principles on which the leader of it stood, as opposed to the ardent pursuit of the goals of the right of the party.

The truly sad fact is that moderates were reduced to having the number of candidates eventually presented to us – Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. We found ourselves in a terrible situation in which you’d rather have an intelligent, but social conservative running the show, or a direct right-wing puppet that is Andrea Leadsom.

I would like to repeat my comment that I am incredibly proud of playing my own small part in one of the most responsible yet liberal, sensible and prudent Governments to date. I am so proud that as a gay man, I was able in my own small way to campaign for my rights and the rights of others. I am proud that I helped create positive change within my local area.

Although I am departing as a member, I will make it clear that I will continue to support those candidates who I feel are genuine stars and worth my time, but I will not be renewing my membership – which expires later this month – until such a time that the Party once again becomes recognisable to me.

I only hope that those of us genuinely in the centre-ground once can once again offer the solutions to the issues that Britain faces.

References

  • Layard, R., Clark, D., Bell, S., Knapp, M., Meacher, B., Priebe, S., Turnberg, L., Thornicroft, G., & Wright, B. (2006). The depression report; A new deal for depression and anxiety disorders. The Centre for Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group, LSE.

7 Comments

  1. A very erudite and considered piece, as always. Does this make you partyless or have you found an alternative. It is ironic that you are leaving the Conservatives because it is no loger a party you recognise and I have rejoined the labour party because it, too, is a party I no longer recognise. Actually, I recognise it only too well from a dark past. I think centrist politics has lost its public appeal because of the devicive rhetoric of the extremes to both left and right. Let’s hope it is not too long before the general public reurns to its senses.

    Ps. Cameron’s big mistake was to believe the remainers would win and not insist on a two thirds maority requirement (or some such). Would a victory by 1 vote have swayed the decision, I wonder.

    • Hi Kevin

      Thank you for your reply.

      For now, I’m non-partisan and I don’t suspect any party will attract me any time soon. What I know is that I have the same values as about a third of the Tory Party. Sadly, they’re no longer implementing policy.

      I don’t really need a political identity any longer. I am forming the belief that party politics as we know it is doomed; that we will end up with majorities large enough for either parties to enact their more radical ideas easily, and as my post outlined, I’m a centrist.

      As for the parameters of the referendum, we are now dealing in counter-factuals, which may be a useful intellectual exercise and one for the future. Sadly it does not change the situation in which we have found ourselves.

  2. Liam,

    A very good read and commend you for your judgement and reasoning.

    However, I have one very serious bone to pick is where you repeat the fallacy that Parliamentarians must implement the will of the people.

    This is not, nor has never been their role. their role is to represent their constituents having been selected to do so for their opinions, their positions and their common sense.

    And this is so for a very good reason – because the will of the people is often very wrong. I’m not referring specifically to Brexit here, but to moral issues and consider the things that public opinion supports – e.g. capital punishment – or what it used to support – slavery, denying women the vote, gay rights, etc.

    It is important that public opinion is aligned with the goals of public representatives, but this comes about through electing those whom we believe are most likely to promote views in parliament that we agree with. The alternative is entirely undemocratic and a tyranny of the majority whereby parliamentarians are dictated to by the amorphous and always changing ‘will of the people’ outside of the mandate they receive from General Elections, by-elections, etc.

    • Daniel

      Thank you. As you outline, Parliamentarians are rightly there to represent their constituents. The issue at hand here is a little different: The British public were offered a referendum without parameters. It is therefore the responsibility of Parliamentarians to follow through with the direct instruction from the British people. I have sympathy for those who nearly did not vote for it if their constituents didn’t, and respect for Ken Clarke who voted against, but I would not accept, nor vote, to block Brexit.

      My point about representing constituents was my my polite way of suggesting that further referenda on many subjects able to be debated in Parliament may not be necessary or desirable. Indeed, I suspect any political party considering offering one will now think twice – except for the SNP, of course, who are quite frankly making a huge mistake. That is for another post.

      Thanks again for your kind words.

      Liam

  3. Liam,

    This, as always, will have been a very considered decision on your part. Although our political colours differ, I have always admired your interest in and dedication to political policy and philosophy. I am no longer a member of any party either, but agree with you that it is important to continue to make our views known about government and policies which are against our own truth and sense of justice.

    You have already contributed much for someone your age and I know you will continue to do so. When you are Prime Minister, please invite me to Downing Street! Champagne reception would be good.

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