On Friday 28th April Michael was unanimously adopted by Sevenoaks Conservatives to stand as their Parliamentary Candidate in the forthcoming General Election. Here is the full text of his speech to the members at this special meeting.
Mr Chairman, Friends
They say that as you get older time goes by quicker. But can it really have been only two years ago that I last sought adoption as your General Election candidate?
Next week marks my 20th year as your Member of Parliament since you first did me that enormous honour of choosing me as your candidate. That was five elections ago. But I believe this coming election is by far the most important of the six that I will have fought on your behalf.
We need to win it to secure strong and stable leadership to steer this country through Brexit and beyond. A successful Brexit, a good deal in Brussels, a full and fair agreement with the other 27 members of the European Union, is vital for our jobs, for the businesses here that trade with Europe, for the future prospects of our children.
This election isn’t about voting for a hard Brexit or for a soft Brexit. Brexit has been decided. We each made up our minds on that last summer. The issue now for the country to decide is how best to negotiate it successfully.
That means giving the Prime Minister and our government a proper majority to navigate past the extreme views on either side – those who simply want to stop Brexit altogether, and those who want us completely out whatever the consequences at midnight on 31st March 2019 and have nothing to do with Europe ever again.
We need an agreement with the rest of the EU that does two things: that protects our existing trade with Europe, the business done on the continent by hundreds of firms in Sevenoaks and Swanley, while we search for the huge new opportunities in new markets that Brexit offers us; and one that ensures that we continue to co-operate with other European countries on security, the challenges of terrorism, of mass migration across the Mediterranean, of Russian aggression. Much of that co-operation, of course, depends upon our membership of NATO, not the EU, but some of does depend on the EU, its agencies and Treaties. It’s important our police, intelligence and security services continue to work together; it’s also important that we are able to secure the return of fugitives from our justice and that we return fugitives here to other European countries too.
So we seek a new partnership, a deep and special partnership, with the European Union, one that covers economic and security co-operation with the rest of Europe.
But the other parties are blocking that. We only have a majority of 12 in the House of Commons. Labour are not ruling out another referendum, and may vote against the final deal. The Liberal Democrats are threatening to use their peers to block legislation in the House of Lords. The Scottish Nationalists want to use the Brexit negotiations as a lever to break up our United Kingdom. That’s what Theresa May means by a coalition of chaos.
To deal with it, to stop so many others frustrating the will of the people, clearly expressed last June, we need a fresh mandate. And we need to give Theresa May the authority she needs to get the right deal for Britain.
Theresa May herself, remember, voted to remain. But she has taken on the challenge of Brexit, and she has the integrity, the toughness and the experience to negotiate our way through this, provided we can give her the authority she needs. Indeed, in tackling this challenge with determination and principle, she reminds me of another female party leader: cometh the hour, again, cometh the woman.
But this election isn’t just about Brexit. I began by referring to “Brexit and beyond”. It’s also about building a stronger, fairer Britain.
It’s about looking after the weak and the “just about managing”. It’s about extending choice and opportunity for all: more grammar schools, a better deal for consumers, more funding for the NHS and for social care..
It’s about strengthening, not undermining our Union here of the United Kingdom. We will be looking for powers that can be returned from Brussels and then handed further down, to the assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
It’s also about maintaining strong defences. Leading in NATO, renewing our independent nuclear deterrent, stepping up in the world to defend fragile democracies and the values that we share in common.
When it comes to defence, Jeremy Corbyn is no joke. He’s perfectly sincere: he’s simply a pacifist, unable and unwilling to defend this country properly. He’s always voted against nuclear weapons, he’s questioned our troop deployments this month to Estonia and Poland, he’s even refused to back RAF strikes against terrorists threatening attacks on our streets here and in western Europe.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party he leads are a risk to national security. They’re also a danger to our allies: our partnership with the United States, our work in NATO with France, our membership of the 67-country counter-Daesh coalition.
At the beginning I said what an honour it was to represent this wonderful constituency. Every day I walk into Parliament I remember that it was you who chose me, and who have worked tirelessly to re-elect me. But I’m standing again because there’s also more to do here, in Sevenoaks, in Swanley, in Westerham, in our villages.
We’ve finally got our grammar school annexe, after years of campaigning. But it’s only for girls. We need grammar school places here in Sevenoaks for boys too, in order to cut the time and cost for so many of travelling back and forward to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Already I’m in discussion with a boys’ grammar to prepare that case.
We’ve done well on unemployment. It’s now under 1 per cent here, putting us in the top 50 or so of 650 constituencies. Only 70 under-25s are on Jobseekers. But we should now be more ambitious: there shouldn’t be any youngster on the benefit system when we have so many college places and apprenticeships and so much training to offer.
Broadband has now improved: we have 92% coverage. But we need that coverage at 100 per cent, ensuring everybody working from home, every village, every company on our business parks have the high speeds they need: I’ll go on working with our team at Kent County Council to get this done.
The Green Belt always needs protection. Our district councillors are under constant pressure, and not just from developers: there are other bodies and requirements, for example to make more provision for travellers, being heaped upon them. I will go on campaigning with them to make sure new development is directed to brownfield sites.
Rail commuters now get better compensation for delays, and more services like wi-fi. But, after innumerable meetings with SouthEastern management and with successive Rail Ministers, we still need more capacity on our trains and we need the easier ticketing that Oyster can provide. I will go on with my Oyster campaign too.
Finally, there’s business. If our young people are to have a choice whether to commute or not, they need jobs here too. Already our government has done much for small businesses: cutting tax and business rates. But red tape continues to appear from nowhere (or usually the EU), and we must keep on deregulating. We also need to encourage more of our very small companies to export, like the company I visited on Chaucer Business Park, Kemsing, just last Friday.
We can only do these things as a Government with a good majority and a proper mandate. We can only deliver them as a team: MP and councillors working together. I look forward to campaigning tomorrow morning with our magnificent Kent county council candidates: David, Margaret, Michael, Nick and Roger.
So our work starts tonight. And if I may offer one word of advice: ignore the polls. If you think you know the outcome, tell me who’s lying second here, in this constituency ? Last time it was UKIP; the two elections before that it was the Lib Dems; my first two elections it was Labour. Who’s second this time I have no idea and neither really does anybody else.
The only way to be sure of strong and stable leadership, is to get out there and get our message across: that strong and stable leadership under Theresa May and the Conservatives can deliver a successful Brexit and a stronger, fairer Britain beyond. Let’s give her the majority she needs by working for it here in Sevenoaks.
Once again, I ask for your support.