Life in the new - safe majority, 5 years ahead of us, Brexit decided and therefore calmer - Parliament has nonetheless set off at a gallop. Here’s a flavour of my multifarious week:-
Sunday 12th. BBC Politics Show at 10AM. Can’t believe anyone watches, but am glad to have old friends round for lunch who have indeed seen it.
Monday 13th. Sad news of death of Brinkworth son, Sir Roger Scruton. A hugely distinguished philosopher, pianist, barrister, countryman, and the world is a poorer place without him. Wish Harry and Meghan would take a lesson from his modesty and kindness. Ask a question about Iran and do a long Channel 4 News interview about the disgraceful hounding of old soldiers by the Police. Chair a dinner for a General (as Chairman of All-Party Group for Armed Forces, NATO Parliamentary Assembly and a cluster of other military related posts.)
Tuesday 14th. Ask a question about brutal Ellie Gould murder case and Attorney General’s refusal to allow parents to appeal against lenient sentence. BBC Points West carry the story. Am taking parents to see Lord Chancellor and Swindon MP, Rob Buckland about it all next week. Various meetings setting up All-Party Group for Polar Regions which I chair. Dinner with group campaigning against plastics, whose passion rather watered down by presence of food manufacturers, supermarkets etc. Having seen albatrosses stuffed with plastic, I try to stiffen their resolve.
Wednesday 15th. Am not at all sure that I support the idea of Big Ben bonging out at 11 PM on 31 January to mark Brexit, especially not at a cost of £500k. What role does Brexit triumphalism have in bringing the Nation back together? Say so at the ERG, which meets disdain from the ‘Spartans’. Do a Daily Mail Podcast (check @jgray on Twitter-see how up to date I am) about old soldiers. Dinner with main Hong Kong leaders (Taipan? Hongs?). The problems in Hong Kong are even more intractable than Brexit was here; but we found a way through it.
Thursday 16th. Votes on Queens Speech debate which has been going on all week. Lots of Maiden speeches- 109 hyper-talented new intake all rushing around with sharp elbows expecting promotion within days. They may be disappointed. Select Committee elections come first. They have organised a new intake ‘slate’ to get each other elected. Will skew the Committees away from the old and bold, who actually know what they are talking about. And anyhow, promoting your own fellow intakers must have tactical career downsides, you’d have thought?
Friday 17th. Stimulating meeting with friends of Ellie Gould, who have some great ideas for combatting knife crime. I promise to follow it through in Parliament.
Saturday 18th. Surgeries in Cricklade and Malmesbury (Calne and Royal Wootton Bassett last week) will get me back into the od constituency routine. I can feel a bit of sleep coming on for the rest of the weekend.
If we had killed Himmler or Göring or Goebbels with Hellfire missiles fired from a Reaper drone in - let’s say - 1938, would the world be a better place? I am sure that we would all agree in retrospect, that that would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and a generation of misery, and so would have been more than justified. But would it have been justified under International law at the time? And would it have made Hitler a weaker or a stronger person? And what would his military reaction have been? These, of course, are the very questions troubling us all over the killing of Soleimani and his deputy. Was it justified? Will it save lives? What will the reaction be from Iran or their proxies across the Middle East, and very probably across the rest of the world as well?
I welcome the fact that the Iranian reaction so far has been modest and relatively harmless and hope that will satisfy their need for revenge. We must all de-escalate and seek to use diplomatic means to resolves the crisis. (Thank goodness that the UK, unlike America, has kept our Embassy open in Tehran). We must never forget that the security of our own troops - and civilians - must be paramount; but also, that we have an overwhelming duty to keep Daesh contained. Our troops are mainly being used to train both Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers to do just that. I visited them a year or two ago near Erbil; and it will not surprise you to hear that our boys do a great job. Military training is one of our greatest skills. It makes a huge contribution to keeping Daesh under control, and we must not be deflected from it.
Parliament’s back and plunged into the Committee stage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. 30 or 40 hours of debate were set aside this week for it. But despite Remainers’ complaints that that was not nearly enough (their vote against the Programme Motion was one of the main reasons for the General Election), they were unable to put up enough speakers to keep the debate going, so that it collapsed in about half of the time allocated. By the time you read this, we should have completed most stages of the Bill, and so will be moving towards Big Ben chiming out to celebrate Brexit at 11pm on 31 January.
Europe in turmoil, President Trump in deep trouble, dangerous events in the Middle East. The world is indeed a dangerous and confused place at the moment. Britain must be in the lead in seeing us through it.
It would be hard to exaggerate what a great feeling it is to be back in Parliament - re-elected for the constituency I love, and with no reduction in the number of people voting for me. (Phew!) But even more important, it is the first time in my Parliamentary lifetime that we have been in power and with a worthwhile workmanlike majority. The other parties (bar the SNP) are in disarray and will stay that way for some time. It is not for us to pry into their private grief.
As that great Conservative thinker, Macleod said “The Socialists may dream their dreams, and the Liberals may scheme their schemes, but WE have work to do. And it started this week with a large and rich and challenging Queens Speech, and then with a huge majority for the Brexit Bill. We have the mandate of the people- of al kinds of people from all over Britain- and we will now deliver on our promise with regard to Brexit (by 31 January) and then with regard to a wide and radical set of domestic proposals.
Its going to be very hard work. I will be chairing Bill Committees, starting with the massive Environment Bill, which will take up a great deal of time. I am continuing, and hope to develop further, my interest in the Armed Forces, security and defence, which of course are both constituency and personal interests; and I hope to play my part in restoring the public’s faith in Parliament and the Constitution, and in running the House of Commons itself. It is so good to know that in those and so many other ways we will at last be able to do stuff. Parliament has been in gridlock- dither, delay, destruct- for three years. Now at last we can really get on with the things the people voted for.
For now, we are just glad to be back. Back representing the people of North Wiltshire, and back helpng to support a Government with a challenging agenda ahead of it, but for once with the majority necessary to get things done.
So I wish you all a Very happy Christmas and New Year, and can do little better than leave you with the mellow baritone of the Attorney General, Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP reading ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. It is well worth a listen!
Maybe it’s something to do with my Scottish ancestry, but the New Year always induces a variety of emotions. Sentimental, nostalgic, forward looking, drunken. Its all about saying farewell to all that is past (over the decade perhaps) and making plans for the future. It’s Auld Lang Syne “Now here’s a hand my trusty friend, and gie’s a hand o thine.”); its about sparkle, champagne, handsome first footers with a lump of coal, and a shocking hangover on the 1st of January.
Its been a turbulent year, and one which we are probably glad to see the back of. But there is now a tangible feeling of optimism around. Post- election and post-Brexit, there is a way forward. Talks with people of all political persuasions and views over the last couple of weeks have had one thing in common- a sense of relief that it’s all over; that clear fresh feeling after the thunderstorm; the weight off the mind which comes from the ending of some old relationship that has gone sour.
There’s a great deal to look forward to, and so much to be done after a period of relative stagnation. A majority of 80 in Parliament at long last means that we can start moving. And Boris and team have set about it with vigour and imagination. The Stock Exchange and money markets have been reflecting that renewed sense of optimism. A US President under Impeachment proceedings and locked in a trade war with China; Frau Merkel nearing the end of her time; and President Macron beset by problems. The field is pretty clear for Britain truly to lead the way. And the General Election now makes that possible.
It’s going to a hard work- there is a thick wedge of legislation to be agreed before 31 January. I am to Chair the Environment Bill Committee, which will be challenging. There will be a Budget, a re-alignment of Whitehall Departments; a major reshuffle in February; there are 110 new Tory MPs to settle in; a Labour Leadership battle which is squaring up to be one of the bloodiest on record, as the contestants struggle for the soul of the Labour Party; and a host of new initiatives, committees, Parliamentary battles to come.
So I am so grateful to all of those who have worked with me over the last year; to those who re-elected me (all 32,000 of you), to my friends and colleagues in Parliament. It’s been a tough year; but we have achieved a lot. And we will need that shared work, dedication, loyalty and commitment if we are to achieve all we want to in the year ahead.
So will it be a “Happy New Year”, a ‘prosperous’ one; a healthy one we all hope? Will it be an exciting roller-coaster of a year, or a period of steadying of the ship of state? I personally rather hope that after a pretty exciting couple of years, this one will be positively boring. We need to get on with the real work of Government, of making Britain truly a leader in the world. That should be serious, dull, if altogether more satisfying than the heady whirligig we have endured of recent months.
I rather like the old Scots song:
A guid New Year tae yin an aw, an monie may ye see
An durin aw the years tae come, O happy may ye be
An may ye ne'er hae cause tae mourn
Tae sigh or shed a tear
Tae yin an aw, baith great an sma
A hearty guid New Year!!
Thank you to the voters of North Wiltshire for renewing your faith in me and your support for me. 32,373 people voted Conservative, 25 votes fewer than in 2017, but still 59% of all of those who voted. The majority in numbers went down a bit to a pretty healthy 18,000, because Labour lost about 3700 votes which largely transferred to the Liberal Democrats. They scored 27%, and Labour 10%. (I remain puzzled by the Lib Dems absurd Bar Chart campaigning method. – You remember: ‘Only the Lib Dems can beat James Gray here. Recent polling shows we are only 4% behind Gray.’ Wrong by a factor of 10.
Thank you too to my magnificent campaign team, so ably led by Nick Botterill and Ashley O’Neill. We touched every corner of North Wiltshire, as I believe it is my duty (and pleasure) to do. But we also found some time to help in Cheltenham (where we held off a tough Lib Dem challenge) and especially Stroud (which we won) as a contribution towards Boris Johnson’s great overall victory. We also lent a hand, although in the event they probably did not need it, in Thornbury and Yate, and Chippenham. A particular vote of thanks is due to my wife, Philippa, who has been central to the campaign, on the road every single day, but has also kept every aspect of the domestic agenda running.
On a side note, we do not want to create any littering of the countryside and will be taking down all Conservative posters used during the campaign. However, if anyone sees any posters that we may have missed please do either just take them down or let me know and we will ensure that they are removed.
In return for your votes, I renew my pledge to all of you to do what I can to serve the people of North Wiltshire; people from every corner of it, people of every kind, and people of every political persuasion and none. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. But you can be certain that every single thing I do and say, every single vote I cast will be for the benefit of the people of this great area as a whole.
That, I think, matches the Conservative Party’s pledge to swathes of Labour voters, especially in the Midlands and North of England who have ‘lent’ us their vote. They wanted to see Brexit done, and they could not stand their hapless Leader. We will now do all we can to repay their trust, and do so in spades. The Conservative Party has throughout history been the party of every class and area of Britain. Our strength was traditionally in the great cities. And so it must be again. The superb victory we won last Thursday – a clear majority of 80 seats, and getting on for double the number of Labour MPs, gives us the strength to drive forward our domestic agenda- the NHS, schools, roads, the environment, the public services, defence, in the way we promised during the Campaign. The Government looks set to hit the ground running in so many of those areas, barely taking a day or two off for Christmas.
The people have given us their trust and their votes. We must now repay that by delivering what they wanted and what we promised. You can be certain that we will.
© 2019 Promoted by Nick Botterill, on behalf of James Gray, both of North Wiltshire Conservatives, 12 Brown Street, Salisbury SP1 1HE.