Why I am defecting to Labour
* I say, this has to be one of the most interesting letters I have read in a long while.
June 26, 2007
I have been a member of the Conservative party for over 30 years, and have served for 20 years in the parliamentary party, in a variety of backbench and front bench roles.
This has usually been a great pleasure, and always a great privilege. It is therefore with much sadness that I write you this letter. But you are entitled to know the truth.
Under your leadership the Conservative party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything.
It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda.
For the first 19 years of my time in the House, in common I imagine with the great majority of my colleagues, it never occurred to me to leave the party, whatever its current vicissitudes.
Ties of familiarity, of friendship, and above all of commitment to constituency supporters are for all of us very strong and incredibly difficult to break.
But they cannot be the basis for living a lie – for continuing in an organisation when one no longer has respect for its leadership or understanding of its aims.
I have come to that appreciation slowly and painfully and as a result of many things, some of which are set out below.
The first horrible realisation that I might not be able to continue came last year. My initial reaction was to suppress it.
You had come to office as leader of the party committed to break a solemn agreement we had with the European People’s party to sit with them in the EPP-ED Group during the currency of this European parliament.
For seven months you vacillated, and during that time we had several conversations.
It was quite clear to me that you had no qualms in principle about tearing up this agreement, and that it was only the balance of prevailing political pressures which led you ultimately to stop short of doing so (though since then you have hardly acted in good faith in continuing with the agreement, for example you never attend the EPP-ED Summits claiming that you are “too busy” – even though half a dozen or more prime ministers are always present.)
Of course I knew that you had put yourself in a position such that if you did not leave the EPP-ED Group you would be breaking other promises you had given to colleagues, and on which many of them had counted in voting for you at the leadership election.
But that I fear only made the position worse. The trouble with trying to face both ways is that you are likely to lose everybody’s confidence.
Aside from the rather significant issues of principle involved, you have of course paid a practical price for your easy promises.
You are the first leader of the Conservative party who (for different reasons) will not be received either by the president of the United States, or by the chancellor of Germany (up to, and very much including, Iain Duncan Smith every one of your predecessors was most welcome both in the White House and in all the chancelleries of Europe).
It is fair to say that you have so far made a shambles of your foreign policy, and that would be a great handicap to you – and, more seriously, to the country – if you ever came to power.
I have never done business with people who deliberately break contracts, and I knew last year that if you left the EPP-ED Group I could no longer remain in a party under your leadership.
In fact you held back and I tried to put this ugly incident out of my mind and carry on.
But the last year has been a series of shocks and disappointments. You have displayed to the full both the vacuity and the cynicism of your favourite slogan “change to win”.
One day in January, I think a Wednesday or Thursday, you and George Osborne discovered that Gordon Brown was to make a speech on the environment the following Monday.
You wished to pre-empt him. So without any consultation with anyone – experts, thinktanks, the industry, even the shadow cabinet – you announced an airline or flight tax which as you have subsequently heard from me in a long paper (which has never been refuted) and I am sure from many others, is certainly defective and contradictory – and in my view complete nonsense.
The PR pressures had overridden any considerations of economic rationality or national interest, or even what would have been to others normal businesslike prudence.
Equally it seems that your hasty rejection of nuclear energy as a “last resort” was also driven by your PR imperatives rather than by other considerations. Many colleagues hope that that will be the subject of your next u-turn.
You regularly (I think on a pre-arranged PR grid or timetable) make apparent policy statements which are then revealed to have no intended content at all. They appear to be made merely to strike a pose, to contribute to an image.
You thus sometimes treat important subjects with the utmost frivolity. Examples are “inequality” (the “Polly Toynbee” moment – again you had a paper from me!), marriage and the tax system (even your own party chairman was unable to explain on the BBC what you really meant) and, most recently, mass consultation of the public on policy decisions. (In view of your complete failure to consult with anyone, within the party or outside it, on many of the matters I have touched on, or on many others, the latter was perhaps intended as a joke).
Of course I could go on – up to three weeks ago when you were prepared to stoop to putting forward a resolution on Iraq (demanding an inquiry while our military involvement continues) which it was admitted at a party meeting the following Monday (by George Osborne in your presence) was motivated by party political considerations. That was a particularly bad moment.
Believe it or not I have no personal animus against you. You have always been perfectly courteous in our dealings. You are intelligent and charming.
As you know, however, I never supported you for the leadership of the party – even when, after my preferred candidate Ken Clarke had been defeated in the first round, it was blindingly obvious that you were going to win.
Nor, for the same reasons, have I ever sought office in your shadow administration.
Although you have many positive qualities you have three, superficiality, unreliability and an apparent lack of any clear convictions, which in my view ought to exclude you from the position of national leadership to which you aspire and which it is the presumed purpose of the Conservative party to achieve.
Believing that as I do, I clearly cannot honestly remain in the party. I do not intend to leave public life. On the contrary I am looking forward to joining another party with which I have found increasingly I am naturally in agreement and which has just acquired a leader I have always greatly admired, who I believe is entirely straightforward, and who has a towering record, and a clear vision for the future of our country which I fully share.
Because my constituents, to whose interests of course I remain devoted, are entitled to know the full background, I am releasing this letter to the press.
Source: The Guardian
For most recent updates on my campaign, click here.