Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 23rd July 2019
Thank you and welcome to my latest Newsletter. Please do forward this on to someone who you think may be interested, and urge them to sign up.
This newsletter has been delayed by a couple of days, awaiting the announcement of the new Conservative Party leader. As I write, the declaration of the result has just been made, about 500 yards from where I’m sitting in my office in Westminster. Boris Johnson has been elected with 66% of the vote – a very significant margin of victory over Jeremy Hunt. Mr Johnson will therefore become our new Prime Minister tomorrow afternoon, assuming Her Majesty invites him to form a government after Theresa May resigns.
So, this newsletter is perhaps rather more personal, and more political, than usual. In the circumstances, I hope you’ll understand.
Boris or Jeremy?
Throughout this contest I have not publicly declared who I voted for, either in the initial ballot of MPs or in the wider election, and I have not named my preferred candidate. That is not going to change.
But my position is now clear. I support our new Prime Minister.…and I would have done so whoever had won. That’s not just blind loyalty – although, as I’ve remarked before, it’s a shame that ‘loyalty’ has become a trait to be derided rather than a virtue to be applauded. Perhaps I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I think loyalty to your party leader and Prime Minister is important.
That’s why, I’m afraid, I’m not happy with some of my colleagues who’ve publicly resigned. They say it’s about principles, but I think the strongest principle is that you are loyal to your leader, and if you can’t be, then you go quietly. Undermining the new Prime Minister before he’s even taken office is not helpful, either to the Party or – more importantly – the country.
I am not going to agree with everything Boris Johnson does as Prime Minister. But I think we should let him get his feet under the desk before throwing our toys out of the pram.
Without a doubt, top of the new Prime Minister’s inbox will be Brexit. This is probably a good point to re-state my position. I supported remain in the referendum, but I lost. Nearly 60% of North Devon voters supported Leave. I absolutely respect their decision, and so I have voted at every opportunity in the House of Commons to make Brexit happen.
Indeed, when I was re-elected in North Devon in 2017, I stood on a platform of delivering Brexit. I won’t break that commitment. I firmly believed that the deal negotiated by Theresa May was the best way for the UK to leave the EU, but it failed to get through Parliament on three occasions.
Now we must see what the new Prime Minister can do. The problem is that the arithmetic in the Commons has not changed, so we have to find a new deal that can be passed.
But I am clear about this: we must deliver Brexit by October 31st, and move on.
We had a flurry of votes last week in Parliament which received a lot of publicity, but were not actually that significant. Much attention was given to one motion which was an attempt to prevent the new Prime Minister proroguing, or suspending, Parliament. People said that was important, because it would stop the new PM sending MPs home and then pushing ahead with a no-deal Brexit.
I voted against the motion. Let me be clear - I don’t want a no-deal Brexit. But neither do I want to tie our new Prime Minister’s hands before he’s even started. And anyway, proroguing Parliament is something that’s happened for centuries whenever a new session begins, in the run-up to the Queen’s Speech. It’s technically in the gift of the Queen, and this motion will have dragged Her Majesty into party politics in an unacceptable way.
Remember too, Boris Johnson has said repeatedly he does not want a no-deal Brexit and will not pursue it. He has said it is important to deliver Brexit and to move forward with a raft of domestic policies. That is the correct approach, and one I will support.
Those domestic policies I mentioned are vitally important. Brexit has been all-consuming, and frankly we have not focused enough on the other stuff that matters. I am confident this will now change.
One of the reasons I refused to publicly declare my support for any candidate was so they would come to me, desperate for my support, and wanting to listen very carefully to my shopping list. When I met Mr Johnson I talked at length about the unfair funding of schools in Devon. It’s a problem that has lasted for decades, under governments of all colours. I made clear that this must change, and change quickly.
The next day, Boris Johnson made his first big policy speech, and improved schools funding was the major commitment. Afterwards he saw me and said my lobbying had pushed it to the top of the agenda. I’m glad to have that kind of influence, and I’m hopeful that something will now happen.
Last week I met a group of headteachers and governors from a selection of schools across Devon. They made it clear that their funding has radically to improve. I agree, and I will continue to lobby the new Prime Minister very hard to make that happen.
We also need action on social care, broadband and infrastructure. We’ve already achieved £83 million of government money for major improvements to the North Devon Link Road. Devon County Council is just about to bid for funds for the second phase of work and I have written a supportive letter.
Boris Johnson knows North Devon – I’ve brought him here a couple of times and he has a family home just across the border on Exmoor. That can only help us, and I will use it unashamedly to get what we want here.
Many people will not support Boris Johnson, either because they dislike him personally or simply because he’s a Tory. I respect that. And ‘respect’ is a commodity that’s in rather short supply in politics these days. It’s a forlorn hope maybe, but let’s hope a new era in British politics can herald a new, more constructive discourse.
The photo, by the way, shows the Devon flag proudly flying just outside my office today, in Parliament Square, to mark Historic County Flags Day. Whatever the dramas taking place here in Westminster, it’s great to remember what really matters!
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
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Mail: 1st Floor Office Suite, Church House, Church Lane
Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DE
Telephone: 01271 327990