“The first rule of politics is to be able to count.” So said Lyndon Johnson, the US President renowned for his skill in getting legislation through Congress.
He was right. And it doesn’t take Carol Vorderman to realise that following last week’s General Election the numbers have changed. Despite polling its highest share of the vote since 1983, the Government no longer has its majority.
So how does this affect the imminent Brexit negotiations? First, there is now an imperative to achieve the maximum possible national consensus. As Ruth Davidson and William Hague have pointed out, the Government will now need to reach out to other parties and organisations and take on board their views. Those must include the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC and – yes – the Labour opposition. I welcome that.
Michael Gove recognises it too, stating as much on the Today programme recently. And the parties aren’t actually that far apart. Given that absolute free movement appears to be the non-negotiable price of membership of the Single Market, both Labour and the Conservatives seem to agree that we will have to leave. Equally both parties agree on the need for the best possible access to the Single Market. Those parameters are set. So when settling our stance on the customs union, for example, scope exists to hammer out a broader consensus.
Second, the UK’s economic prosperity must be prioritised in this process. One of the mistakes of the General Election campaign was not talking about the economy. We seem to have forgotten the horror of unemployment, which shatters self-esteem and can hollow out communities. And yet unemployment is less than 5% here, compared with 10% in France. Record numbers are in work, with the dignity of supporting themselves and their families. We must support that.
That matters here in Cheltenham. I am passionate about making our town the best it can be. That means fighting hard for excellent schools and healthcare, and maximising the life chances for people from all parts of our town. It’s what I think about at the beginning of each and every day. But that task is infinitely more difficult if jobs aren’t being created and firms stop investing. So, promoting our economic strength is vital.
Thank you to all those who voted for me on Thursday. But whether you did or didn’t, I will continue to work with every bone in my body to serve the people of this great town. With a bit more consensus, and a close eye on the numbers, I believe our best days can lie ahead.