Weekly Column


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All of life sometimes feels like a hurdles race- do we sail confidently ever more complex obstacles sprinting to the winning line, or do we stumble and trip our way over just hoping to finish uninjured? This last week has (at last) felt a bit like the former!

I have campaigned for most of my Parliamentary career for an increase in defence spending. So I was delighted by this week’s announcement that we would move to 2.5% of GDP, or an extra £75 billion, over six years. That will make us the largest defence nation in Europe, and second only to the US in NATO. It will unlock all kinds of capabilities and personnel. The world is a more dangerous place than it has been for a very long time, and so it’s only right that we are beefing up our defence capabilities. I called on Labour (and insofar as they matter the LibDems) to match our commitment, which they (rather shamefacedly) did not do. Our commitment sends a strong message to Putin and to our NATO allies, and it is a shame that our message does not come from the whole House. But given that Mr Starmer was until recently a member of a Shadow Cabinet committed to abolishing Trident and changing the army into a ‘national defence force’, I suppose that mild pacifism is about as good as you can expect.

Then the Rwanda Bill passed its final hurdle and became law. There will be no stronger deterrent to illegal asylum seekers thinking about paying thousands of pounds to the wicked modern slave-trader lookalikes, the people smugglers, than seeing their immediate predecessors on a plane out of Heathrow. I hope to see a sharp fall in the number of people crossing the English Chanel in small boats as a result.

The economy is showing signs of perking up, with inflation once again falling. I hope that interest rates will follow suit; and people will start to feel a real benefit in their mortgages in particular. Unemployment remains at a record low, and I think we can look forward to a healthy economy under this Conservative Government.

And while discussions in the Government Chief Whip’s Office must always remain secret, I think I will not be breaching any confidences by reporting a very encouraging meeting with the Chief on the subject of the Lime Down Solar excresence. Watch this space after the end at the end of ‘Purdah’ around the Local Government elections on 2 May; but I think there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.

Meanwhile the campaigns for the Police and Crime Commissioners are flying, with large amounts of leaflets being delivered around the patch. Labour seem to be targeting Swindon, and limited parts of rural Wilts and Glos; the Lib Dems are nowhere to be seen. I hope our Conservative candidates, Phil Wilkinson and Chris Nelson will respectively do very well in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

So this week feels as if we are flying over the various obstacles in our path; although whether or not that is a harbinger of an early General Election (as some Westminster rumour mongers predict) may well be another matter.

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James Gray
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Published Date
April 26, 2024