The past 48 hours have been manic, though today that was more focussed on my work back in Stockton. I have held meetings with local doctors, a delegation from Tees Valley Law Society, a range of surgeries with individual constituents and an open surgery at Sainsbury’s in Stockton.
I also fielded a few more questions from the media about my Private Member’s Bill.
It came as something of a surprise to be drawn top of the Private Member’s Bill Ballot. With the chances being in the region of 1/400 it was certainly an unlikely turn of events.
I quickly decided I would bring forward the Conservative Party’s draft bill for a referendum on UK membership of the EU. I have not always been a loyal backbencher when it comes to Europe but the position set out by David Cameron earlier this year – of renegotiation and then an in/out referendum by the end of 2017 – is one that I support. It is almost exactly what I asked for when I first wrote to the Prime Minister about Europe some years ago and it sets a sensible roadmap to resolving this most vexed of issues.
It irritates me when politicians talk endlessly about things that most people do not consider priorities to them. Europe is an example par excellence. A significant minority of people care passionately about it, and with good reason, but a far greater proportion of politicians allow it to dominate debate to the exclusion of all else. I would much rather Conservative MPs were in the media talking about some of the great things this government is doing; the deficit is down by a third, fuel duty has been frozen, the Personal Allowance is increasing every year lifting millions out of tax, Michael Gove’s reforms are reintroducing rigour to our education system and Iain Duncan Smith is finally tackling welfare dependency. Yet when we talk about Europe this message is lost. That is why I am delighted to bring forward my Private Member’s Bill. It will be a chance for the Conservative Party to unite behind a single approach to an important issue and, whilst it will certainly lead to more debate in the short term, I hope it might settle matters in the long run. Indeed, the public will be able to watch their MP’s speak and vote when this Bill comes before Parliament and those for whom it is a political priority can then vote at the next election accordingly.
I hope we can have a sensible and frank debate, that my Bill might pass and that once the dust has settled my colleagues will apply their energies to ensuring we address the other things that matter. It is incumbent on all Conservatives to do all we can to prevent the disaster that would befall our country were the same old Labour Party that got us into this mess to ever gain power again.