• Author:Ben Jones
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Remain or leave…………in the Conservative Party?

I’m a Remainian. A Remainder. A Remaindeer! On 23rd June 2016, I will voting for Britain to remain in the European Union.

I believe passionately that Britain is better off within the European Union – economically, socially, for its security and as a place to exercise influence and leadership around the world. I have many friends and family who feel just as passionately about leaving the EU and despite that fundamental difference between us I am proud that we can take those different views and disagree without being disagreeable. That’s democracy. That’s freedom. That’s being part of a country as great as the United Kingdom.

The debate about the future of the UK within the EU is a once in a lifetime decision – something that dwarfs any discussion about any political party and any individual’s leadership ambitions. Country always – always – is more important than party. But this debate about whether to remain or leave has got me thinking about my own political home since 1992 and my spiritual home for much longer. I am asking myself do I still have a place in the Conservative Party? Is the broad church I joined still broad enough to want me to stay?

This is not meant to be a melodramatic post or an attempt to induce party friends to send me emails pleading with me to stay – but it is a genuine question about whether my views are still compatible with being a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party and whether if I sought selection as a parliamentary candidate my views would disqualify me from being successful. For the first time, I do now really wonder.

Let’s look at some examples.

When I stood for Parliament in 2010 I faced a selection meeting of local party members – some of the most committed of their type anywhere in the country. On that occasion, we clicked. We connected. I answered their questions and we found common ground. It was an incredibly humbling experience – a privilege to represent them for 18 months and then to persuade 8339 people to vote for me.

I now imagine myself in a hypothetical future standing before a similar group of people and answering the questions – their litmus tests of the issues that defines “one of us” for many within the Party. My views on these questions are no longer – if they were ever – the majority view in the party.

  • I voted yes in the AV referendum – I believe we need a fairer electoral system based on some form of PR
  • I’m a republican who believes a hereditary monarchy is outdated and should be replaced by a directly-elected President
  • I was against the Iraq War
  • I believe we should have done more on the recent migrant crisis, including taking in more refugees
  • I believe that immigration has been a good thing for Britain and whilst I accept there are some problems sometimes, I cringe at some of the rhetoric used by many in my party
  • If I voted in the US Presidential Election, I cannot imagine a Republican I could vote for. Incidentally, the Republican I admire the most – President Reagan – would I believe struggle to be nominated by his party now
  • We have covered it but worth restating, I support Britain’s continued membership of the European Union
  • I support gay/equal marriage and the rights of gay couples to adopt
  • I believe that climate change is real and man-made
  • I support the European Convention on Human Rights
  • I support the commitment to international aid and believe we should spend more
  • I believe the honours system should be scrapped
  • I believe in much greater devolution of powers from Westminster to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • I supported a minimum wage long before the party did and believe strongly in the living wage
  • I believe in major reform of the House of Lords, including introducing an either totally or majority-elected chamber
  • I voted for Kenneth Clarke to be leader – twice!
  • I voted for David Cameron as many of my friends voted for the more right wing David Davis.
  • By the way, I am totally opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances!

For balance, I should add that I believe income and corporation tax is too high, the NHS is not sustainable and needs major reform, including how we fund it and provide services, I believe life should mean life in all sentences involving the most serious crimes and any offences involving cruelty or violence towards children, and I believe we should renew our Trident nuclear deterrent without a moment’s hesitation.

Despite believing passionately in freedom, choice, competition, smaller government and the need to support the individual to be self reliant and independent, I have long known that I hold minority views in my party – I have always been a little out of the mainstream with my ‘One Nation’ views but that little has grown in to a lot over recent years. I look at my party now – especially how the numbers stack up on the European debate – and wonder whether I would be selected now by a local party association.

I hope so. I hope so for my sake but also for my party. But I have my doubts. I believe that the bigger the tent we occupy, the more chance we have to be in touch with more people we seek to serve in government. The more of people’s lives we understand the more we can help them meet their aspirations. The more people we are trying to serve, the more good we can do and the better chance we have of being asked by the electorate to do it.

I have no intention of doing a Tim Montgomerie and leaving the party but I wonder whether it will leave me. As I vote to remain, I wonder whether my fellow party members would vote for me to remain with them.

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