Party conferences are strange beasts. A gathering of those passionate about politics and the decisions that affect all of us, they are attended by people who come to listen to those with vision, passion and a willingness to be in the lion’s den that is political life. We watch the present incumbents in the big hall make stage-managed speeches, we go to fringe meetings where activists gather to listen to backbenchers and experts kick about policy ideas. It’s a way to road test whether a new idea might have political legs.
It’s an opportunity for those who give up their spare time to deliver leaflets and knock on doors for the party to engage directly with those who will be running our country.
There will be a lot of ideas conversations, alongside noise about leadership and Brexit throughout the Conservative Party conference. For my money, that shouldn’t be the main focus – Brexit is a given, we voted to leave, so leave we shall. How “clean” that departure will be has yet to be finalised, but there is no question that the prime minister must continue to lead the negotiations. Ably assisted by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, they will ensure we leave the EU and are once again an independent nation. We will be determining our country’s economic and security future for ourselves. We will be friend, protector and important trading partner to the EU27 and others on the continent of Europe. But we will be an independent country.
I want some of the airtime for this 2018 conference to go to the world after Brexit – the questions of social mobility, of technological development and skills uplift needed for all our workforce; the way we value the human capital so that business maximises the investment it makes into its workforce, not just its machinery and software.
We need to be talking about our nation’s global trading opportunities and reminding the world that tariff-free trade is the best way to help all nations grow and improve their standard of living. We need to be bold enough to say – as the French do – that our international development spending is about building trading partners of the future by helping developing nations to become strong, secure economies. British innovation, British military expertise, British leadership and business acumen can help those developing countries become future global partners in trade and security. We all want the world to live peacefully, where we give all our children strong, safe nations to grow up in.
So, most importantly, we need to reignite a grassroots understanding of the importance and value of our British military, its purpose, its value and its necessity in the present unstable world we find ourselves in. No state can be a strong world leader if it does not have the best, most effective military. We have world-class soldiers, sailors and airmen and women, but we don’t value them as much as we need to. If we are to continue to lead in promoting global peace through safe trading sea routes, safe oceans for all the financial data that runs through sub-sea cables to make the world go round, we must have policy that underwrites that.
We need to understand that spending taxpayers’ money on defence is about investing in the best insurance policy in the world. In order to do this we need the best equipment and innovation, we need to be ahead of the game on cyber as well as submarines, we need the finest technology in warfighting capability. But, most importantly, we need the best people and we need to value their expertise, our investment in them and what they do to keep us and our allies safe.
My granny used to tell me that money makes the world go round – in order for that to happen, the world needs to know it can rely on the United Kingdom and her allies to provide full-spectrum military assurance. We must have the best diplomats across the globe and the reliability of our British values of peace, economic progress and freedom of speech instilled, embedded and respected in our international institutions. The rest of the world looks to the UK to lead and stand up for these values.
The foundation stone for all our policy decisions should actually value that most precious and valuable asset, our people. It’s not enough to just say we value them – of course we value our doctors and nurses, our soldiers, sailors and airmen, our teachers and policemen and women. We need to have policy frameworks (because that’s what politicians do – take ideas and make them into effective policy, which can change the world we all live in for good or ill) that genuinely make human capital investment important.
Our nation is at a crossroads and the world continues to change; old orders are being challenged and rules we have taken for granted are under threat. So what? This crossroads is one of strategic significance; from here we could turn left towards isolationism and little Britain, or right towards a more adventurous foreign policy and global economic reach. We can stand still and be overtaken by events, or we can move forward to define our place in this new world. We can forge a future for our children and grandchildren or we can accept what is handed out.
I want to be part of a Conservative government that sets the gold standard in policy that their people are their best asset. Only that way can we get the best outcomes for our communities, our country and global progress. I want to hand on a United Kingdom that is respected as a great nation around the world. It’s our people who make that happen.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the Conservative Party MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed
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