It is a privilege to take part in this debate on the Gracious Speech, and it is a particular pleasure to follow
In view of recent events relating to the Government side of the House, I think I should make it abundantly clear that I intend to vote for the Queen’s Speech, that I will support the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and that I will vote against any amendment, tabled or selected. That I should feel the need to make such an assertion at the outset will underpin some of the observations I shall make.
I continue to support the restoration of economic stability. That was the raison d’être of the coalition and it remains its overarching objective. To fulfil that commitment, I, like others, have had to subordinate my views on other subjects to that objective. I felt it necessary to do so because of the economic circumstances we have inherited and because of the very obvious difficulties that exist in resolving them. Some of the decisions that have been made have been very painful—to me and to others—but I believe them to have been necessary.
We continue to make progress towards the objective. We have reduced the deficit; we have maintained low interest rates; there has been no run on the pound—and although it is a volatile measurement, it is worth observing that the stock market, often seen as a barometer of confidence, has in recent days returned to its levels of
five years ago. Between now and 2015, nothing should be allowed to distract the Government from that objective. It is impossible in the present context to ignore possible distractions.
Thankfully, the internal management of the Conservative party is nothing to do with me, but speaking as someone who was a not entirely dispassionate observer of the Major Government between 1992 and 1997, I say that there are surprising echoes of that period in the current turmoil of the Conservative party. It is worth remembering that that Government had very substantial economic achievements—to such an extent that the incoming Labour Government, with
If we undermine the authority of our Prime Minister, we will undermine the credibility of our Government. If we undermine the credibility of our Government, we will undermine the economic objectives of that Government. This is all the more the case when the coalition agreement contains a perfectly rational mechanism for a referendum if constitutional change is made. Is it rational to spend the next two years on a fractious and divisive debate over Europe when so much remains to be done? I simply cite the example of Scotland, in respect of which every decision, every policy and every political statement has for some time—and it will continue for some time—had to be seen through the prism of the referendum fixed for September next year.
If these events are a reaction to UKIP, let me offer a sporting metaphor. Teams that chase the game are rarely successful. That applied, of course, to the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath when he sought to outbid the current Chancellor on the question of inheritance tax, and as it did when he declined to call a further general election. Concessions rarely satisfy dissidents, who have the ghost of Oliver Twist among them.
Another issue—that of Syria—should not allow us to be distracted from these economic goals. I retain my previously expressed reservations about the proposals to arm the rebels. President Obama’s resistance to that is sometimes related to an inactivity—whether or not that is right is neither here nor there, but in my view his resistance is well founded. The objections are many, including the emergence of Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra as an increasingly influential part of the rebel forces, which raises the question of who would inherit any arms that we might deliver. The risk of a proxy war between the United States and Russia is another example, with each matching each other in armaments supply. Once we depart from non-lethal supplies, where would we stop?