I always smile when I hear the adage `you are a socialist before the age of 20 and a capitalist after the age of 20`, because that describes me.
I grew up in an immigrant family, a working class immigrant family. My father came to Britain in the 1950’s, worked on the railways and then the buses, and I found myself thinking that I was on the left.
At the age of 20, while at University, I joined the Conservatives for the first time. Why did I make that journey? What made me make that journey?
Well, one of the things that my parents always told me was that it doesn`t matter where you come from. It’s where you are going that is important. There is no limit to what you can achieve, as long as you believe in yourself and work hard.
My father worked on the railways and he was a bus driver after that. He said to me, being a bus driver is a very worthy job. The world will always need bus drivers….. well until we have driverless buses …….
I don`t think he foresaw that one! He was visionary, but not that visionary!
He said I don`t want you to be a bus driver. There is more you can be, if you want to.
It took me a few years to realise that he didn`t want me to be a bus conductor either……
……I got the message.
What was very interesting is the whole idea that there is no limit to what you can achieve. Overcome those barriers. Sometimes you make your own barriers. Every time you see a barrier, get yourself up, dust yourself off and move on again.
When I went to University I found myself thinking seriously about my politics, assuming that I was on the left. But, then I looked at the Conservative Party of the 80’s and I looked at people like Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a grocer. I looked at Cecil Parkinson, also the son of a railway worker. I also looked at Ian Twinn, my local MP in North London, the son of a bricklayer. I looked at Norman Tebitt, a working class boy from Edmonton, exactly where I grew up.
For me they personified exactly what my parents were telling me. They were telling me that I could come from that sort of background and I could achieve success.
That was the politics of ambition and aspiration.
Politics now gives me a platform to stand up for those beliefs, for the things that really matter to me.
So, two of the things I spend a lot of time doing when I’m not leading the third largest group in the European Parliament, back in London, is visit projects. I feel very strongly about going to schools and Youth Clubs, not the pilot schools Michael Gove was telling us about, but some of the more challenging schools, to give that message, to say to children, who are going to be me in 30 years….well….a bit older to be honest ….
That if I can do it then so can you. I hope that I can make a difference and inspire others to make a difference.
But, the other thing that is important to me is that if I look across my constituency of London, there are hundreds, probably thousands of small, community-led, projects tackling deprivation, tackling real social problems and actually they are saying to us, you know what, I don`t necessarily need the state, I just need someone to give us a bit of help, some advice, some premises.
As politicians we are in so many networks. We can put people together. Whether it is funders, whether it’s someone with a building……. I went to a job club the other day and all the organiser wanted was second-hand computers, as simple as that! She’s put 100 people into full time jobs in the last year, a much better return rate than the local job centre.
Someone emailed me and said have you heard about this thing called, ‘The Good Right’? So, I texted Tim and said do you know anything about ‘The Good Right’?…….
……He said, ‘actually, it’s me!’
We agreed to meet up for a chat. What was interesting was that we didn`t agree on everything. Those of you know me probably know that I come from the classical liberal right of the party. But there were three things that we could agree on.
The first one he said is, ‘Let’s be optimistic’. Why are the Conservatives so miserable?
……Why don`t we instil optimism? Why was I attracted to that message of aspiration and ambition? Because it was an optimistic message.
I don`t think it is any coincidence that some of the best political speakers are those that come from a religious background. They offer to hold you by the hand and take you to a better place, take you to a promised land, take you to that shining city on a hill. Why can`t we be like that again?
The second thing he said to me was, ‘Let us make the moral case for Conservatism and not talk as if we are accountants’. I am sure there are very moral accountants (laughter).
What do I mean by that? When we talk about the deficit, or we talk about debt, let`s not talk about it in terms of money or financial reasons. Let’s explain why we do not want to pass on the debts of this generation to future generations, and why it is immoral to do that.
And thirdly, he said, ‘The State is NOT the enemy’.
For lots of people, the state sometimes is the only place they can go. One of the reasons why I work on these projects in London is because I think that whole debate about the state has shifted to the left.
We have to realise that you will never achieve this classical utopia of no state. There will always be a state and I think we have to recognise that.
When the left talk about poverty they think about a trick-down solution at state level, town hall level, Westminster, Whitehall or whether it be in Brussels. They assume that that will solve poverty in our local communities.
You go to some of our local communities where they supposedly have that trickle-down politics and you`ll see deprivation.
On the right, we are just as bad. We talk about rolling back the state. All these civil society organisations and community organisations will engage. But, you know what, we forget that those individual communities are not people from text books. One of the reasons I work with these projects is to help them help themselves. To give them space to incubate their project. To work with them.
In many ways, I think the message is not about the state being good or bad, it’s that the state should not be seen as the first resort, but the last resort. So, where there is no community project, where there are no local organisations that can help you solve the problem without the state, there will always be a need for a state.
Can I thank the Legatum Institute, thank Tim and Stefan for hosting us tonight. Can I thank you, the audience for giving up your night in front of the TV watching Emmerdale ……..
….. or Hollyoaks
and can I thank Michael Gove for his thought provoking speech.
Let us assert our moral right.
Let us be brave enough to talk about a compassionate right.
Let us come away with thoughts of the liberal right