Andrew Bowie is MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and a Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party.
“People in this country are crying out for a Conservative party that is decent, reasonable, sensible, commonsense, and in it for the long term of this country. And that is the party we are going to build, and I want everyone to join in.
“If you want to build a modern, compassionate Conservative party, come and join us. If you want me and all of us to be a voice for hope, for optimism and for change, come and join us. In this modern, compassionate Conservative party, everyone is invited. Thank you.” – David Cameron, 6th December 2005
When I am conflicted about an issue, a policy or a vote; when I, not infrequently, question why I do what I do, why I am here, what drove me into politics and particularly, into the Conservative Party, I recall the words above.
I first heard them sitting in my mum’s car outside Morrisons Supermarket in Inverurie, the town I grew up in. I was 18 years old, had passed the Admiralty Interview Board for the Navy and was awaiting entry. And as the rain came down on that car in that supermarket car park, I heard on Radio 5 Live the result of the Conservative Party leadership election.
No one in my immediate family were Conservative voters in the 2000s. Not one of my friends voted Conservative in the 2000s.
But I heard those words from David Cameron. And I knew then that the Conservative Party was my party. I knew then that the country I wanted to see: a country built on positive, optimistic, compassionate, foundations, could only be built by a Conservative Party that spoke to a new generation – a generation fed up of Labour’s failures but unsure of the Tories; built with the words and actions of a new generation of Conservative MPs – Cameron, Osborne and a guy called Boris Johnson.
And that’s why I’m a Conservative. Because of those words and those people.
In 2010, I was so excited to read the foreword to the Conservative Manifesto-
“A country is at its best when the bonds between people are strong and when the sense of national purpose is clear. Today the challenges facing Britain are immense…But these problems can be overcome if we pull together and work together. If we remember that we are all in this together.
Some politicians say: ‘give us your vote and we will sort out all your problems’. We say: real change comes not from government alone. Real change comes when the people are inspired and mobilised, when millions of us are fired up to play a part in the nation’s future. Yes this is ambitious. Yes it is optimistic. But in the end all the Acts of Parliament, all the new measures, all the new policy initiatives, are just politicians’ words without you and your involvement.”
This is what I believed. It is what I still believe. And those words inspired me not only to vote for, in my first general election, but to join the Conservatives.
But something has gone wrong.
Charlotte Ivers recently wrote a Sunday Times column entitled “The Tory party hasn’t had an idea since 2005.” In it she suggested that, secure in power for over a decade, we in the Conservative Party have no motivation to innovate.
Sadly, I cannot disagree.
We see evident now in the Conservative Party, my party, a strange mix of complacency, entitlement, fear and exhaustion.
Complacency bread from the fact that the Labour Party, after more than a decade in turmoil and opposition pose no electoral threat.
Entitlement bred from the comfort of office and power.
Fear bred from the nagging doubt that we might actually be wrong, and that years on the opposition benches await.
And exhaustion from twelve hard years of Government that have seen economic crises, migrant crises, an independence referendum in Scotland, Brexit, snap elections, a global pandemic and war in Europe.
It is a toxic combination. Made even more difficult by the need to keep on side the majority of that unwieldly coalition of electors that returned the Conservatives to Government in 2019.
So we end up here. Talking the talk of lowering tax whilst increasing National Insurance. Giving investment incentives to increase our domestic oil and gas production whilst imposing a windfall tax. Making the right noise about cutting the size of government not recognising it was our party that created two new departments in the last six years. Espousing the values of Global Britain whilst shrinking our diplomatic presence overseas.
Entering into a race with the Labour Party about who can spend more on x.
Where’s the spirit of 2005? Where’s the big idea? What’s the challenge to us? What’s the offer to the country?
I often say I am an optimist. Being an Aberdeen Football fan, a Scotland Rugby fan and a Scottish Conservative, I have to be. That’s why I backed Johnson for leader in 2019, because I knew he was too.
And I firmly believe, whoever is leader of my party, the Conservative and Unionists remain the only party capable to tackling the challenges that face us as a nation.
But we need to rediscover that confidence. We need to look back to our recent past. We need to reach out, think radically, be bold. Explain, again and again, that to taking our country forward requires all of us, not just Government, to make a difference.
That chucking money at a problem rarely solves the issue but that targeted investment can.
We need to be proud of ourselves and our past, but understanding of different opinions of it.
We need to build a new, positive relationship with the EU. Never compromising on our sovereignty or the integrity of our union, but working with them to resolve issues and together to tackle our shared challenges.
We need our Foreign Office to shout from the rooftops in every capital in the world how great a country, how great an enabler for change, how positive a force the United Kingdom is.
And we need to talk to a new generation in the same way Cameron, Osborne, and yes for eight great years, Boris did in London.
That is why I am a Conservative. That is why I joined this great Party – the most successful political party in the history of the world. Because I truly believe, if we start doing all this, now, our future is bright. And it is Conservative.
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Author: Andrew Bowie
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