A New Political Home

It is difficult to move from one political party to another – a huge chunk of electors vote for the same party at every election – but it is particularly hard for longstanding members with friends, ‘histories’ and, often, electoral success garnered over decades. Of course, the alternatives also matter; it would be perilous simply to switch without thought or, for many, improbable to become politically idle.

For me, such a change has been in gestation for several years. In part, it is about policies but these, quite literally, come and go; the real drivers are values, and how they inform policy making and behaviour. Politics is not an exact science; Otto Von Bismarck’s famous quote, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not seeing them made.”, reminds us of the complications – so a set of values must be the politician’s reference point, certainly in choppy conditions.

For me, advancing the national interest, promoting life fulfilment – everywhere, enhancing and protecting individual freedom, and applying the rule of ‘good’ law through consensus are values worth fighting for. Let me briefly examine each one.

First the national interest; basically, making sure the UK is prosperous, cohesive, secure and internationally respected. In my view, Brexit – literally in any form – is likely to be at odds with the national interest but, since the referendum, obsessive party interest (Conservative and Labour) has prevented the emergence of a workable plan.

While I recognised the referendum result and, with a heavy heart, voted for Article 50, I hoped the Government would be more respectful of the national interest but, in truth, from the ill-fated general election campaign of 2017 onwards, this was increasingly subordinated to Party concerns. It is important to stress this is not just about the act of leaving the European Union but the signals it sends about the sort of country the Conservative Party now wants to shape.

Turning to life fulfilment, my time as Chair of the Education Committee and, subsequently, as Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Learning for Work, Life and a Changing Economy (Pearson) were both platforms where I celebrated education but also promoted my belief in reform and extra resources.

Priorities for education should include a real boost for the further education sector coupled to properly identified pathways towards different employment options, an end to blunt league tables system supported by a refocus on a broader curriculum, meaningful action to tackle regional disparities and the well-known rural/coastal challenges, and, crucially, a more linear approach from toddlers to lifelong learning.

I link economic productivity and social mobility together, believing it to be a shocking waste of human talent not to provide properly for every young person. I want to be a member of a party which has the character and capacity to sort this out.

Protecting and enhancing individual freedom might be considered a Conservative value but this is also about rights and, above all, how we treat people, including immigrants. The days when Edward Heath could invite 150,000 Ugandan Asians to the UK to save them from Idi Amin’s persecution and then highlight their contribution to our economy and society are, seemingly, well over within the Conservative Party. Today’s Conservatives have the Windrush scandal as a handle to their approach to treating individuals.

I am committed to representative democracy and the rule of law. At heart, I am a ‘pluralist’ – seeing the rich variety of attitudes and cultures as a good thing. It is about consensus, engagement and openness – attitudes that should define our political processes. This is already a hallmark of the Independent Group.

I have decided to register as a supporter of the Independent Group. I do so because my values matter to me and I think I can fight for them more effectively if I make this change.

Neil Carmichael

Former Conservative Member of Parliament for Stroud, 2010-17.