Speech – North Down Conservatives – 28th November2019
Ladies and Gentlemen – Good evening!
Conservative friends of Northern Ireland
It is a great pleasure to be here and to support Mathew Robinson as your Conservative candidate in the General Election and I look forward to seeing him as the first of many Conservative MPs from Northern Ireland to sit in the House of Commons.
I have met Mathew before and I can tell you he is a great Conservative and a great believer in democracy including within the Conservative Party.
Of course, I have been to Northern Ireland before and each time when I arrive at Belfast International Airport and start to descend the steps from the plane, there on the ground before me I see a great big mat and on that mat are written the words: Welcome, Welcome home!
For that is how I feel. For many, many, years you have shown me friendship, kindness, hospitality. There is nowhere in the United Kingdom, except perhaps Sheffield in Yorkshire, where I was born, that has a bigger heart.
30 years ago, doesn’t time fly; at the Conservative Party conference a motion was passed to let the people of Northern Ireland be members of the Conservative Party. Sadly, many of those who worked so hard to bring that about are no longer with us, but I can still see their happy faces when that motion was passed. Happily, some of you are here today to remember that wonderful occasion.
Let me for a few moments indulge in a bit of nostalgia to explain to those who were not there what happened.
In April 1988 I was the Chairman of the Beaconsfield Constituency Conservative Association, one of the strongest associations in the country. It had 6,500 members and raised lots of money for the Party.
Out of the blue I received a letter from a lady in Northern Ireland writing on behalf of the “Tories for Equal Citizenship”. In the letter she put the following question:
Why is it that although I am a citizen of the United Kingdom I cannot join and be a member of the political party which forms the government of the United Kingdom? At the time I didn’t know that, so I took the question to the Executive Council of the Beaconsfield Association and asked them. They didn’t know either, but went on to say “write to the Party Chairman, who at the time was Peter Brooke, and ask him. So I did. His reply was not very satisfactory. He said it was all historical and the Ulster Unionists had been part of the Party but had left and it was all very difficult!
I began to get more and more involved with the North Down Model Conservative Association, and at the 1988 Party conference a petition was organised and got over 1200 signatures and there was a packed out fringe meeting.
In 1988 the Conservative Party launched a national membership drive and the last session of the conference was on Party organisation so I put my name in to speak. I was the last speaker in the session and having spoken about what we had done in Beaconsfield about membership I then went on to say “There is other way in which we can increase the membership of the Conservative Party and that is to allow the people of Northern Ireland to be members of it.” That got a big cheer. The lovely Teresa Gorman, do you remember Teresa, said to me “you have changed the course of history”. Nothing like a bit of flattery to get the adrenalin flowing!
Lawrence Kennedy and others were watching the conference in a TV rental shop, because they were not allowed into the Conference centre and immediately found me and asked if I would come to Northern Ireland and address a meeting. I said “when?” He said “next Friday”. “OK” I said, and so I came to Northern Ireland for the first time. I was expecting a meeting with perhaps a dozen people. No, the hall was packed out. I had never seen so much enthusiasm from people wanting to join the Conservative Party. I was given a standing ovation.
A report of the meeting went to Ian Gow MP, a great man who promptly wrote to Pater Brooke and described the meeting and told Peter Brooke that he now had to take action. I was given a copy of the letter.
The next month I got the National Union Executive Committee, which I sat on, to support a motion to affiliate the North Down Conservatives to the Conservative Party and I then went on to get a similar motion agreed by the Wessex Area Regional Council.
It was therefore a big disappointment when in November 1988 the National Union announced the rejection of the application.
What now I thought? Maybe the answer was to alter the Constitution of the Conservative Party. Big shock – the Conservative Party did not have a Constitution. The Party was not a legal entity! At that time the Conservative Party consisted of three separate entities; they were the Leader’s Office, the Parliamentary Party and the Voluntary Party which was the National Union of Conservative Associations. Now fortunately the National Union did have a Constitution and in that Constitution it spoke about England and Wales so I put down a motion to alter the Constitution by inserting “and Northern Ireland” everywhere after “England and Wales” and tabled it for the Central Council meeting of the National Union in Scarborough in March 1989.
That really caused consternation in CCHQ. Their first reaction was that I couldn’t do that, but I showed them that it was my right to do it.
Next I received an invitation to dinner with Sir Peter Lane, later Lord Lane, who was the Chairman of the National Union and Peter Brooke, the Party Chairman at Peter Lane’s home in Woking.
It was a very enjoyable dinner. Peter Brooke was concerned that my motion would dominate the Agenda and detract from the media coverage they hoped to get for the elections to the European Parliament which were coming up. I agreed that I would drop the motion if they undertook to have a motion at the Party Conference in October and would publicly announce this at the Central Council meeting. They agreed and they stuck to their word. I was delighted because now I was convinced that it would pass at the Party conference. It did!
So, ladies and gentlemen that is briefly what happened. I have not been able to include in this summary details of all the help that was given by people like Myrtle Boal, Lawrence Kennedy, James O’Fee, Barbara Finney, Paul McGarritty and many many others, the media coverage by the Telegraph, the Spectator whose editor was Charles Moore and Deputy Editor Simon Heffer; or the bomb threat I received at my house in Gerrards Cross which meant I had protection by the Royal Protection Squad based in Windsor for a couple of years; or the fact that this led to the Conservative Party getting a Constitution in 1998.
Let me just briefly comment on what happened after this and then I will sit down and take questions.
Lawrence Kennedy fought the General Election in North down in 1992 and came within 4,000 votes of winning it. The Conservatives in Northern Ireland got virtually no help or assistance from Conservative Central Office. It was only later that we found out the reason for this. The Conservative government were in negotiation with the IRA and the Dublin government to try and reach a peace agreement and the Dublin government were putting huge pressure on John Major not to give any support to the Conservatives in order not to jeopardise this. That situation continued throughout the nineties. Then in 1997 we got Tony Blair and eventually the Good Friday Agreement.
My view is that the people grasped at the Good Friday Agreement because it offered a reduction in the violence in Northern Ireland and it did. However, I said at the time it was fundamentally flawed. It had a democratic fault line running right through it.
Democracy is a system of government in which the people exercise power through their representatives by a process in which the will of the majority is determined. In a democratic society the majority will take into account the views of the minority when exercising their will and so govern for all the people. What it cannot do is give a minority a veto on the will of the majority. This is where the Good Friday agreement fell down and what we see today at Stormont is the result.
Today, politics is in turmoil. We are taking back power from an undemocratic European Union; a body where legislation is put forward by an unelected, unaccountable European Commission, a parliament where you can only vote for a party and not an individual to represent you, a Council of Minister which meets in secret, a system of voting where a vote in Luxembourg is worth four times a vote in the United Kingdom because the constituencies do not have a vote of equal value.
The road to democracy has been hard fought and tough. From the Levellers of the 1640s to the Chartists to the riots in 1832 when the great Reform Act was passed the going has been hard and there was no greater suffering than when the suffragettes were fighting for votes for women.
Today the baton of freedom and democracy has been passed to a new generation. I know you will carry that baton with all the fervour and enthusiasm our predecessors have done. Let us now ride this rainbow of opportunity and grab that pot of gold containing those precious stones. Freedom, Democracy, Liberty and Justice.
So my message to the people of Northern Ireland is:
You may say I am a dreamer
But I am not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
That is why we have to win this General Election on December 12, because when we do we will take our nation back and begin to build once again a great nation for the future and the World will be our oyster. Vote Conservative and we will give you back your country.