Last week, I attended the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham for the first time in five years.
As an independently-minded backbencher, it’s fair to say that I didn’t always see eye to eye with our former Prime Minister and although I was broadly supportive of his premiership, I didn’t see the need to travel to provincial cities to cheer him and his team to the rafters. I was tangential to the Cameron project and the social liberal and modernising agenda. For all that, history will warmly thank David Cameron for giving the British people the once in a generation chance to decide their own fate and destiny in the EU referendum in June and potentially begin a long period of self-confident and prosperous self-government, free trade and Parliamentary sovereignty and democracy.
Now I have a role in the new government as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Brexit (or Exiting the EU to give it its formal title) and it feels like a new beginning.
In fact, for the first time in many years, I have felt my party has a vision, a mission and a sense of purpose and that was eloquently articulated by the Prime Minster at her keynote address closing the conference on Wednesday.
She made clear that the Brexit vote wasn’t just about geopolitics but a crie de coeur for real change, the culmination of a period where frankly too many British people felt anger and resentment at gilded liberal elites with their vested interests, who thought that globalisation was just fine for them and ignored its consequences. This was represented by the out of touch and undemocratic European Union: Mass migration through free movement, pressure on public services, dubious business practices, tax avoidance and income inequality. That’s why she argued forcibly for a fair deal for British workers, a tough approach to immigration, binding votes on executive pay, worker representation on company boards, a drive against tax avoidance and evasion and a commitment to a broad industrial and infrastructure policy focused on the whole country and not just on the unique city state of London. These policies are popular with the voters, if not liberal zealots and free market fundamentalists in the media and my own party.
In some ways, Theresa May has reset the whole political debate by questioning and even repudiating the so-called “neoliberal” economic and political consensus in place for the last forty years.
Brexit has shone a light on such divisions in our country, in a way never imagined by David Cameron but I believe it has given us an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally address these issues and in the long term build a meritocratic society not just for the privileged few but for all those with talent, determination and a love of our country.