The voting tightrope

Rather than quoting Lord of the Flies, when asked by journalists as to the political temperature in Parliament, I shall only say “I am Spartacus”

MP's Diary
ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL DALEY

I voted Remain because I was wary of risk and support alliances of democracies in an uncertain world, even though I accepted that the EU itself was an undemocratic institution. But, as a believer in democracy, I also feel passionately about following through the result of 17.4 million voters. I never imagined for one moment that if Britain voted to leave, they would be described, at best, as stupid, ignorant or anti-immigrants, and at worst, as linked to “Nazism” by mainstream Labour politicians, like David Lammy.

It is true that my preferred Brexit is Common Market 2.0 – in essence, Britain joining the European Free Trade Area (which we helped found in 1960) alongside countries like Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. In the past, many principled Brexiteers supported the Norway/Efta route.

But, this in no way negates my opposition to a second referendum, long delays in leaving or revocation.  And, if there was a choice between the political calamity of a second referendum (with huge loss of mistrust in our body politic and the rise of extremist politics) or a revocation, I would have to support a No Deal, with all the possible turbulence that entails.

It has been extremely difficult walking the voting tightrope: respecting the result, supporting a viable option like Common Market 2.0 and rejecting all moves to stop our withdrawal from the European Union. I hope my voting record reflects this fairly.

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You can’t walk the House of Commons’ corridors these days without discussion of who will be the next Prime Minister – Jeremy Corbyn or a new Conservative Leader.

For me, a future Tory Leader must be a BBC: a Beyond Brexit Candidate. Given the Commons’ arithmetic, I can’t see any leader, whether it be Theresa May or Mother Theresa, solving the Brexit conundrum to everyone’s satisfaction.

For this reason, it is unlikely that the Prime Minister will go until Brexit — or at least some form of Brexit has got over the line. The caveat to this, of course, is the results of the local elections and the European elections — if we have them. If hundreds of Councillors lose their seats, then the movement for change could become inevitable. My hope is that the Prime Minister will leave with dignity.

Given the existential problems that we Conservatives face, and that Mr Corbyn is literally a thread away from Downing Street, I want a Tory Prime Minister that will be counter-intuitive, electable in blue-collar areas (such as my own constituency of Harlow) as well as in metropolitan parts of the country, will be for David Goodhart’s “somewheres” and “anywheres”, will put social justice first and foremost at the heart of Tory policy and, can also be a unifier. You may think that such a candidate does not exist. I believe they do.

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I was recently quoted in the Sun in a story about how MPs were reacting to the Brexit drama in the House of Commons. I said:

It feels like the Commons is having a collective breakdown – a cross between Lord of the Flies and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. People are behaving in ways that were unimaginable even just a year ago, whether they be Remainers, Leavers or in-betweens. The Brexit madness has affected us all.

Both Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail and Melissa Kite in the Spectator have since published articles berating MPs for being such wastrels and using my quote as an example of “wimpishness: personified. In essence, we are all presented as “moaning minnies” and should just get on with the job of delivering Brexit.

I feel suitably admonished and realise that, in some ways, they have a point. Rather than quoting Lord of the Flies or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in future, when asked by journalists as to the political temperature in Parliament, I shall only say “I am Spartacus”.

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A big debate is going on about the prevalence of knife crime and ever-increasing exclusions. There is a false argument in which protagonists from both sides deny that knife crime is caused by exclusions and those who disagree. This line of reasoning is worthy of Aunt Sally extraordinaire. It is not causation, but correlation, that is the key.

In the work on exclusions done by the Education Select Committee (which I chair) we acknowledge that the causes are complex; of course, other agencies must help reduce gang violence, but schools also have a role to play. According to the evidence we received, certain schools must do more to intervene early and help address personal challenges that are linked both to exclusions and knife crime.

It is true that there is not an established causal relationship between knife crime and exclusions, but there is a correlation between the two, and the individuals in either cohort share similar characteristics.

Statistics show that the rate of permanent exclusions, fixed-term exclusions, use of alternative provision, and home-schooling have all been rising in recent years – not just in absolute terms, but also as proportions of the overall school population.

Whilst exclusions were high ten years ago, this does not mean a problem does not exist today. On the contrary, the fact that the rates then dipped to a lower point (before rising again to the levels we are seeing today) shows that it is possible to reduce the rate of exclusions. The fact that they are going up again now is, surely, alarming.

So, given that there is a correlation — albeit not necessarily causal — it is common sense to suggest that fewer exclusions, better early intervention, training and quality alternative provision, could mean less knife crime on our streets. Hopefully, this is a burning injustice that a new Conservative Prime Minister will get to grips with.