‘Rejoice, Celebrate; be of Good Heart and Great Cheer’ may well not be what you expected to read in my first column after what by anyone’s standard was a train-crash of a General Election. It was probably right to have called it, although there are arguments both ways on that one. The Tory Manifesto, its handling and explanation was a disaster in parts; Theresa May’s Presidential style of campaigning (and relatively wooden appearances – ‘the naughtiest thing I have ever done was to run across a farmer’s wheat field’) was asking for trouble, as was our underestimate of Jeremy Corbyn’s lifelong campaigning ability. We thought that the UKIP vote would come to us, but it seems to have been evenly split with Labour; we failed to foresee the national collapse in the Lib Dem vote, much of which is presumed to have gone to Labour; and we failed to engage properly with young voters, who flocked to the polls in their droves to ‘Vote for Jeremy’.
The result, of course, is not at all what we wanted. A number of good friends and colleagues from across the House find themselves without a job through no fault of their own (Ben Howlett in Bath, Neil Carmichael in Stroud and Charlotte Leslie in Bristol North West locally). We have a minority Conservative Government, which commands only a small overall majority supported by the Democratic Unionists (and there is a tricky read-across here to the current Ulster settlement discussions); we have a weakened (albeit for now surviving) Prime Minister entering some of the trickiest and most important negotiations for decades; we have less clarity about the outcome of those negotiations than we had hoped, and arguably a much weaker negotiating stance as a result of the tricky Parliamentary arithmetic. So not much to like about all of that, and a vast amount of work to do to try to put it right.
Yet we must not let the gloom obscure a few cheerful glimpses. We secured 42.4% of the votes cast, which is the highest since 1983, and not dissimilar to the votes cast for Tony Blair in his landslide 1997 victory. It’s just that we did not see the surge in Labour support coming. We have made great strides in Scotland, where we now have more MPs than any time since 1997, and we put the odious SNP back in their box. And tricky as it may be, we have a Conservative Government for the next five years rather than the Communist dictatorship bankrupting Britain which would have been the consequence of a Corbyn victory. And without immodesty, we have a great deal to celebrate here in Wiltshire. My majority at 22872 is the largest ever in the history of the County, the second largest in the South West; and it is reassuring to know that close to two thirds of the electorate supported me with their vote. I must have done something right.
So I would simply thank every single person who voted for me; and pledge to them and to everyone in North Wilts of all political persuasions and none that I will continue my hard work for all of you. The 32398 people who voted for me did so predominantly because they wanted a Conservative Government and all that that means for them. So I promise to do what I can in Westminster to make sure that they get it. What an honour it is to have been re-elected in this way, and I will do all I can to live up to your high expectations.