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Since the House prorogued, the nation has experienced some deeply shocking events: the appalling terrorist atrocities in London and Manchester, and the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower. I want to take this opportunity to send my condolences to all who were affected and to salute the extraordinary bravery and courage of our emergency services.
As we gather around the anniversary of the brutal murder of Jo Cox, her inspiring message that we have—and must celebrate the fact that we have—“more in common” has never seemed more relevant. As we seek to tackle the extremism in our society, the fact that this Parliament is the most diverse ever—with more women, more ethnic minorities and more Members with disabilities than ever before—is a good thing. We are, indeed, a House that has “more in common” with the people we serve, and that can only strengthen our ability to speak for them.
I think it is an understatement to say that this election result was inconvenient for all of us who wanted to be given a clear, loud and unambiguous mandate to get on and do all the things that we wanted to do. The truth is that the mandate is now in this House. It is in Parliament. We should not be afraid of that, and we should not seek to hide from it. The Prime Minister is absolutely right to have set about forming a Government, given that she leads the party that has the largest number of seats and that won an enormous 42% of the vote, which would in any normal election have been an overwhelming result.
It is also clear to me that we must listen to the grievances so brilliantly and, if I may say so, mischievously harnessed by Comrade Corbyn in his campaign. Above all, we have to listen to this message: the British people want us, as my hon. Friend Mrs Trevelyan pointed out, to get on with it, but also to listen and to lead. There is no appetite in this country for another referendum, another election or, dare I say it, a change of leadership. Nobody will thank us for indulging in partisan politics or parlour politics when the country is calling out for leadership. I strongly support the Prime Minister in seeking to provide it in very difficult times.
I welcome the signals that the Prime Minister has given that she is listening, and I thank her for them. She is taking personal responsibility for the events of this nation, as we all should in public office. She has shown humility and contrition—not easy for the leader of a nation—and she has shown phenomenal personal resilience and duty to nation. Those are qualities that will stand her and us in good stead in the negotiations ahead. I welcome strongly her appointment of a First Secretary of State and a parliamentary chief of staff.
I welcome the fact that in the Queen’s Speech the Prime Minister revisited—oh, if only we had stayed on message during the election campaign!—the inspiring message of one nation compassionate Conservatism that so electrified the electorate last summer, not even 11 months ago. I welcome that message loud and clear today. I particularly welcome the measures in the Queen’s Speech concerning industrial strategy—investing in the jobs, businesses and companies of tomorrow, and in skills and education—which will spread opportunity to those who have felt, hitherto, as though we were building an economy that did not work for them.
It is clear to me that we need to do more to tackle the grievances that were so loudly aired during the election campaign and harnessed by the Opposition. There are three that we need to address. The first is that the youth of this country, who were awoken from their political stupor by the EU referendum, are confronted by personal debts and an intergenerational debt transfer—they have inherited from us £1.7 trillion of debt—and they are struggling to buy houses. That has become almost the sole model in this country for building up equity and wealth, and they are largely excluded from it. They were casually assumed not to vote. Well, they did vote, and they are demanding that we listen to them. This party and this Parliament must do so.
Secondly, we heard a very loud message about an exhaustion with a particular model of public service austerity. I bow to nobody in my support for the conviction we showed in tackling the horrendous public finances we inherited from the Labour party, and I will never stop reminding people that Labour thought it was funny. Its Chief Secretary to the Treasury left a note saying, “There is no money. Ha, ha! Good luck.” Well, it was not funny; it was a moral outrage and I am proud that we tackled it.
However, it is clear that after seven years of a particular model of austerity, we have heard a loud roar from public service professionals—the doctors, the teachers, the consultants—that they have tightened their belts and they need a different model. I think that we need to set one out and that it needs to be based more on supporting innovation, on leadership, on rewarding public sector leaders who deliver more for less, instead of punishing them, and on unleashing public sector growth. The public sector could do a lot more to support inward investment and jobs. We must ensure that we skill and train our public sector leaders to take part in a 21st-century economy.
Thirdly, in an election that explicitly sought a mandate for Brexit, there was a clear and strong message from many, including from the young and from business, that they reject the shrill and divisive tone in which Brexit has been presented—the sort of “come on if you think you’re hard enough” approach to Europe. They reject the suggestion from some, particularly those on the extreme of the Brexit debate, that there is some magic trade deal tree, in the same way that some on the Labour Benches suggest there is a magic money tree. I think that the people of this country are reconciled to Brexit. Like me, many people in this country who voted for remain want us to get on with it, but they want us to be hard-headed, hard-nosed and soft-tongued. I think that we need to focus more on the life chances and prosperity of the people we serve.
What do we need to do? On the youth, I think that we need to look at a new deal for the next generation. It is clear to me that we need to look at tuition fees, the rate of interest and the structure of the loan book. We need to look at speeding up their access to rented housing. We need to look at a new model of saving for a generation who will not benefit from the post-war model of national insurance. We cannot duck the deep issues; we need to address them on a cross-party basis in this Parliament.
On public services, we need to embrace a new model to replace austerity 1.0 with innovation and efficiency 2.0. We need to embrace a whole series of reforms to drive the innovation we need in our public sector.
On Brexit, we need to be more business-like. I am delighted to hear the Chancellor say that the electorate did not vote to be poorer. We need to stop treating those who voted for remain as though that is some badge of shame. We need to respect the concerns they have aired. We need to engage this Parliament. Far from hiding the issue from Parliament, I would immerse this Parliament in the detail of Brexit—every Select Committee, every Committee, every Member should be immersed in it. The Government do not need to be bound by everything this House asks for—they seldom are—but it would help to make sure that every Member of this House is fully aware of the issues we are dealing with. In the end, it will come down to three Ms: money, markets and movement.
As a former Minister for life science, a former entrepreneur and somebody who has been proud to work with great entrepreneurs in this country, creating businesses, jobs and prosperity, it is that constituency and the prosperity of my constituents in the relatively poor, rural backwater of Mid Norfolk that I am focused on through this process.
If we are to make this work as MPs, as a Parliament and as a Government, we need to approach it not in the spirit of ideological, partisan or nostalgic, backward-looking yearning for some ideal form of sovereignty, but by being quite hard-nosed about this country. In the best traditions of our foreign policy, we must put British interests first. I am reconciled to that. I think that a Brexit driven in the best interests of this country internationally could be a proud and wonderful moment. Is this the moment we turn in on ourselves, turn our backs on Europe, turn our backs on our allies and our great trading partners, or is it a moment when we respect their project and negotiate a new relationship as their best friend, their nearest neighbour and their biggest trading partner, while allowing ourselves to go off and access the emerging markets? Get it right and we will be thanked by the generations to come, but get it wrong and this party, this House and this Parliament will pay the price. If this becomes a narrow cultural cul-de-sac that appears to a younger generation to have shut off their access to the opportunities of the world, of globalisation and of the new economy, we will not be thanked.
In the end, it is up to this party, this Government and this House to unify this nation, and we can only unify a nation if we are unified ourselves. I hope that you will allow me, Mr Speaker, the indulgence of reminding the House that Abraham Lincoln’s family came from my constituency. He famously said:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The same is true of a Government and a party.