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We must unite or the Conservative Party will suffer an election defeat worse than 1997

(Alamy)

4 min read

On 1 May, 13 Conservative MPs, 18 Labour and one DUP colleague celebrated 25 years continuous service since first being elected to Parliament.

I say celebrated, but in fact the reception promised by the Commons Speaker (himself a 1997 veteran) was kiboshed due to prorogation and has yet to be rescheduled. A gentle reminder Lindsay!

For the 13 Conservatives that remain of the 33 walking wounded, who formed the new Conservative intake in the 1997 rout, it is of particular significance to the circumstances we now find ourselves in. Twenty-five years on, or 25 and a half as it is now, we have still spent more time in Parliament on the opposition benches than government ones. That seems hard to compute now when the Brown government is such a distant memory, but it reinforces just how long we were out of power following the calamitous and disunited Major years of the mid 1990s. Some colleagues never saw government. More than anything disunited and self-obsessed parties switch off voters.

It was 19 years before Cincinnatus was welcomed back to Rome in glory

Knocking on doors in 1997 asking for a vote to retain the Conservative brand in power was a tough exercise in masochism. Unless we get our act together, and fast, it could just prove a walk in the park compared to the next election whenever it comes. That is why I have been banging on over the last few days about the need to find a unity candidate whose can bring our Party back together, relentlessly focus on getting government back in the business of governing and start to regain the trust and confidence of the British people.

Every Conservative MP has a duty to weigh in behind that person whoever he or she is. For some that will require parking egos and setting aside prejudices that has meant spending more energy talking down the candidate you are not voting for rather than bigging up your own. Whoever doesn’t win next week will still be an important and valued Conservative colleague sitting on the same side of the House. We cannot afford to give the opposition yet another gift of blue-on-blue attacks to quote back at us across the despatch box.

I am probably the last Conservative MP to ask for advice having been on the losing campaign team in six of the seven leadership contests that have marked my time in the Commons. And I am not going to be the kiss of death by naming my preferred successor to Liz Truss now. But what I do know is that we have four particularly key Tory beasts who need to be signed up to the succession.

As runners up to Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt are of course on that list, but they need the endorsement of Jeremy Hunt and Ben Wallace especially, who have signalled their wish to stay put in the positions that they currently occupy so ably. For those who complain I have left out one particular big beast, I would just point out that it was 19 years before Cincinnatus was welcomed back to Rome in glory. The timing and the circumstances really are not right if we are to have a credible leader going forward rather than one constantly looking over his shoulder to see where the baggage has ended up.

Around that alliance of four must be built a cabinet of talented grown-ups, regardless of candidate affiliation, entirely signed up to restoring economic stability and prudence and delivering the many popular policies in our 2019 manifesto that remain on the starting blocks. The only requirement is that in everything they do it is not about delivering what is in the interests of Team Conservative but ultimately what is the interests of Team United Kingdom.

People are little interested in obsessing about winning the next election. They are obsessed with how they are going to pay the energy bill, meet the mortgage and see the doctor when they need to. If you do the latter, the right election result follows. And besides, Brenda of Bristol will completely lose it.

And one other important requirement is to be good at briefing… against the opposition and not your own.

 

Tim Loughton is the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.

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