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I am grateful to have an opportunity to take part in this debate and to pay tribute to so many colleagues who are moving on. It is a particular honour to follow my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin. Indeed, it was a telephone call from him that first heralded my appointment as a Minister. I could hear the deep reluctance in his voice, verging on disbelief, as he announced that the Prime Minister had appointed me. He then had a moment of fun at my expense when he told me—he obviously knew me very well—that I was off to the Ministry of Agriculture, before revealing that I was in fact going to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In fact, things went from bad to worse after that phone call, because my sole contribution, apart from irritating the Chief Whip during my first five years in this place while on the Opposition Benches, was to write a blog in which, with the oncoming age of austerity, I recommended that the first thing we should do as a Government was to get rid of Government cars. Straight after my right hon. Friend put down the phone, my new private secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport rang me—I felt tremendously important— and said, “Minister, would you like to come into the Department?” I said that, yes, of course I would. They said, “Minister, shall we send your car?” I paused for a moment. I thought of myself, as I have always been in this place, as a man of great principle and then said, “Yes, please send a car.” [Laughter.] Two minutes later, there was another phone call: “Minister, the Secretary of State has read your blog and he has cancelled your car.” I never had a car for the six years that I was in the Department.
My right hon. Friend’s speech also reminded me of my own glittering political career in this place. I have always wanted to do the Queen’s Speech address, so that I can recount to the House some of my great political successes. Standing in 1997 in Bristol East, I managed to turn a 5,000 Labour majority into a 17,000 Labour majority. Then, when I was selected to succeed Robert Jackson in the seat of Wantage, he and I worked hand in glove together for three years—father and son, Laurel and Hardy—with never a moment apart. After working with me for those three years, Robert Jackson turned around and defected to the Labour party.
I was lucky enough to succeed Robert Jackson in 2005 to become the Member of Parliament for Wantage and Didcot, and it is a tremendous privilege. I rechristened the constituency Wantage and Didcot, although I can never get that past the Boundary Commission. Didcot is the largest town in the constituency, which also includes Wantage, Faringdon and Wallingford. I sensed from my right hon. Friend’s speech that all of us in this House believe that we represent the best constituency in the country. The great advantage of Wantage is that it literally does have everything, from an ancient white horse to a 21st century space cluster with 90 start-up companies. It has Europe’s leading business park, Milton Park, a technology business park with life sciences, the European Space Agency, the Satellite Applications Catapult, Williams Formula 1, farming, small businesses and a huge sense of community. I think the one thing we all learn in this place as Members of Parliament, if we did not learn it beforehand, is the tremendous power of community and social organisations in our constituencies. Again and again, we know the tremendous amount of work that volunteers do in every part of society in our constituencies to make things happen and to make them work, often with very little thanks or recognition.
My constituency—I hope this does not sound arrogant or come out in the wrong way—suffers in different ways from other constituencies, in that it suffers from the problems of success. The issues that come across my desk relate to economic success: concern about the growing number of houses and whether there is adequate infrastructure, such as roads and schools, to support it. There are other important issues, such as reopening a provincial railway station, Grove station, to provide better commuting for all my constituents, and sorting out the problems at Wantage community hospital. The biggest issue that faces us is how to cope with the impact of economic success in this area.
I just want to touch on two other topics before I sit down. I probably should not bring up Brexit—we were all having such a lovely time before I did—but I just want to put on record, as someone who has got into a bit of trouble on this issue, what happened. I supported the Prime Minister’s position when he first became Prime Minister, to leave with a deal; otherwise we would leave with no deal. Funnily enough, I thought the no-deal threat was better aimed at this Parliament, rather than at Europe. It was only the out-of-the-blue Prorogation that made me feel that Parliament should have a moment where it put in an insurance policy to ensure that we did get a deal, but once a deal came back I was very happy to support it. I was happy to support the programme motion, and I hope that if the Prime Minister comes back with a majority, he brings the deal back and rams it through. I would certainly support him in that. I am not a remainer or a remoaner; I am a leaver-with-a-dealer. I hope that that is what can happen after the election.
Although I lost the Whip, I am a fan and an admirer of the Prime Minister. I have known him for many years. Generally, every single political prediction I make is wrong, but I did predict two years ago that he would become Prime Minister. I also said that, looking at his record as Mayor of London, he would make a fine Prime Minister. I think he will. As I look at my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Duncan, I can see him nodding in agreement.