Where is the mandate now? In Parliament. And why we need a Government that shows it’s listening...

12th June 2017
Brexit was supposed to be about Parliamentary sovereignty. But the electorate has given us an inconvenient answer. They have returned a hung Parliament.  Theresa May is right to see through her duty to provide a stable government. It is therefore the job of all of us as democratically elected Parliamentarians to try and represent the will of the people we serve.
One thing is clear: we couldn’t reject the results of the EU Referendum, and nor can we reject the results of a General Election explicitly called to secure a mandate for Brexit.
There are many reasons for what went wrong: a woeful campaign, a shambolic Manifesto process and the undemocratic concentration of power in the hands of a narrow inner circle. When a Manifesto is produced without having even being seen by Ministers (or myself as Chair of the Prime Minister’s Backbench Policy Board) it shows a fatal contempt for Parliamentary opinion.
So the Prime Minister is right to move fast to acknowledge that, change her team and hopefully signal a step change in the way the Government is run.  The restoration of Cabinet Government, the appointment of Damian Green as First Secretary of State, and a Parliamentary chief of staff are key first steps. 
But we must go further than that. Politics didn’t stop on the day of the EU Referendum. This new Conservative Government needs to look hard at what drove the Corbyn surge. And redouble our commitment to tackle the deep grievances it spoke to.
The British people have sent some clear messages. First, they do not trust any single party enough to give us the blank cheque on Brexit and austerity we asked for.  After two successive Conservative Prime Minister's have chosen to outsource difficult decisions and 'ask the people', the people are signalling they'd like us to sort it out.  They want Parliament to do its job.  They will not thank us for another election or Referendum until things are a lot clearer.
Second, the shift of Brexiteers to Corbyn's Labour Party with its strong message on the limits to austerity and the critique of 'crony capitalism' (winning a number of former Brexit stronghold seats) signals a key point. The Brexit vote was as much about a roar at a broken model of growth, politics and public sector austerity as it was a principled view on our appropriate relationship with Europe. In this campaign we managed to alienate both business AND frontline public servants. To make a success of Brexit, tackle our deficit and productivity crisis we need to mobilise BOTH. 
Third, the Corbyn surge was fuelled by a young Millenial cohort and by a massive vote by public service professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers, even the police) fed up at the prospect of indefinite austerity. If we look like we are intent on balancing the public finances on the backs of public sector workers, we risk losing them for ever. We need to properly set out a positive 'offer' for public service reform and leadership and FOR the under 30's which reflects their reality on lack of affordable housing, and our broken public finances.
As the Parliamentary Conservative Party convenes this week we need to show fast that we have listened to the British public, that Parliamentary democracy is alive and well, and that we trust the people and their elected representatives. That is, after all, what Brexit was supposed to be about. So let’s commit to an 'Open Brexit' based on much greater Parliamentary scrutiny, debate, and democratic mandate.
The British people have told us they want a new relationship with the EU, in which we are outside the existing political union, and controlling our immigration in our own national interest.
But they have also told us that they are alarmed by the language of hard Brexit they have heard since the Referendum, want a new approach to public service austerity, and a more inspiring economic vision for how this country gets out of debt and creates and spreads opportunity.  They did not vote for a Brexit which makes us poorer or less secure.  This new Conservative Government must not ignore that plea.  Fail to capture the mood of the nation and we risk gifting the keys of No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn and his hard left union barons waiting in the wings.
So we need a Queen’s Speech which reflects what the electorate are trying to tell us. A hardline Brexit coalition with the DUP risks sending the wrong signal. Let us signal a commitment to redouble the domestic reforms we need to tackle the grievances underlying the Brexit vote, and the big challenges like social care, intergenerational fairness and mental health.  The mandate is in Parliament now. By building alliances to address the grievances of the electorate this new government can secure the mandate it deserves.
George Freeman MP is Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF)


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