11 Sep 2012 07:26:46
By Tim Montgomerie
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One of Grant Shapps' first acts as the new Tory Chairman has been to ask for the election countdown clock to be put back on the wall of Conservative HQ. Meeting him yesterday afternoon he told me that there were less than 1,000 days until the next general election (969 actually if its 7th May 2015) and the party machine needed to start getting into battle mode.
Yesterday he announced the team that he hopes will help the party deliver victory for David Cameron. He, Lord Feldman and Mr Cameron made five new appointments:
- Sarah Newton MP will be the new Deputy Chairman, replacing Michael Fallon. Expect to see Sarah becoming an important new public face of the Conservative Party. She will be a national spokesperson for the party but the MP for Truro and Falmouth will also be particularly important in the South West where the party faces important contests with the Liberal Democrats. Read Sarah's reaction to her appointment.
- Alok Sharma has been appointed as Vice Chairman for responsibility for BME Communities. He is expected to work closely with the PM's new PPS, Sam Gyimah who has been thinking through the party's outreach strategy to ethnic minorities for some time.
- Richard Harrington will take on a new role for campaign finance, again as Vice Chairman, looking at how we raise and allocate maximum resources for target seats.
- Bob Neill is a new Vice Chairman for local government. Harry Phibbs wrote about this appointment yesterday.
- Michael Fabricant becomes Vice Chairman for parliamentary campaigning.
Nicola Blackwood (Social Action), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (International), Alan Lewis (Business) and Andrew Stephenson (Youth) were reappointed as Vice Chairmen. They are all pictured above.
Grant Shapps told ConservativeHome that one of the jobs facing him, Lord Feldman and the new team was to overcome the cynicism that people feel about the tasks currently facing Britain. He suggested that we were in the phase two or three years before the Olympics when people were suspicious about the cost of the Games and wondered whether all of the effort would be worthwhile. It was the whole Conservative Party's task, he said, to use the rest of the parliament to convince people that the road may be hard but the destination of better schools, a benefits system that rewards work and a paying down on the deficit will all be worth it.
The new Tory Chairman will be writing a regular monthly column for ConservativeHome.
PS Can any reader remember the last time that we had a party chairman who has won a seat from Labour?
11 Jul 2012 06:56:36
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday's debate on the Lords Reform Bill was heated, yet relatively polite. I noticed far more speakers against reform of the Lords than for - perhaps because pro-reform Tories knew, the programme motion having been withdrawn, that they would win the Second Reading vote easily (thanks to Labour votes).
Many Tories early in the debate - the initial stages took the form of Sir George Young, the Leader of the House, and his Shadow, Angela Eagle, giving statements on behalf of their leaderships - gave answers which followed the format of "Of course the current Lords is indefensible, but so is this Bill". Gareth Johnson (Dartford) did not take that line. He was proud to be in favour of the Lords' position as an unelected house:
"I have never defied the party line before, and it is something I hope not to do throughout my time in Parliament, but the Bill is fundamentally wrong. I have been a loyal supporter of both the Government and my party, but I am proud to be British, proud of our constitution and proud of our Parliament. The other place forms an essential part of our constitution, our heritage, history and culture, and once it is gone, it is gone. Seven hundred years of history will be undone if we support the Bill. I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say, “I did not forsake the British constitution. I said no.”"
Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) took a similar line:
"I may be in a small minority, but I am one of those people who do not become infected by the view that we must have a democratic House of Lords. I do not want a democratic House of Lords, and that is precisely why I shall vote against the Bill. I want objectivity, expertise, experience and wisdom, all the qualities that we are told so often that we do not have in this House. I do not want Members of the House of Lords to be subject to the electoral and party pressures to which we may be subject here."
Continue reading "Highlights of yesterday's Lords reform debate" »
6 Jul 2012 13:17:19
By Matthew Barrett
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Robert Halfon, the Member of Parliament for Harlow, and one of the most successful campaigning MPs in Parliament, has organised a motion, backed by 60 MPs from all parties, and including 41 Tories, calling for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate allegations of price-fixing by British oil companies. The full motion is worded as follows:
"That this House urges the OFT to investigate oil firms active in the UK; calls on the Government to consider the emergency actions being taken in other G20 nations to cut fuel prices, for example President Obama strengthening Federal supervision of the U.S. oil market, and increasing penalties for “market manipulation”, and Germany and Austria setting up a new oil regulator, with orders to help stabilise the price of petrol in the country; finally urges the Office of Fair Trading to note that the Federal Cartel Office in Germany is now investigating oil firms active in the UK, after allegations of price-fixing."
Continue reading "41 Tory MPs join call by Robert Halfon MP for OFT to investigate high petrol prices" »
17 Apr 2012 07:59:19
By Matthew Barrett
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I recently profiled the 2020 and Free Enterprise groups of Tory MPs. Those two groups are formed by ideology: MPs are attracted to the groups because, in the case of the Free Enterprise Group, members wish to open up markets and make Britain business-friendly enough to compete with other world class economies. The 2020's members want to renew and refresh Project Cameron, while considering how the country should look after a majority Conservative government.
The 40 is rather different as it is a group of MPs brought together solely by necessity - the members are those MPs who were elected in 2010 with the narrowest majorities in the Party.
Origins of the group and key members
The group was founded early last year by Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), and David Mowat (Warrington South). There is no rigid structure to the group as such, given its non-ideological purpose, but when it meets, the convener is usually David Mowat. Other key "executive" members of the group include Evans and Ollerenshaw, as well as Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) and Ben Gummer (Ipswich).
Continue reading "What is the 40 group? Matthew Barrett profiles the MPs trying to keep hold of the most marginal Tory seats" »
13 Feb 2012 19:56:55
By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday on ConservativeHome Ruth Lea questioned the continuation of UK aid to India. Her sceptical position is shared by most Britons. By 60% to 14% voters told YouGov that aid spending should be switched to countries with greater needs.
In a letter to The Telegraph Tory MPs Bob Blackman, William Cash, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Pauline Latham and Jeremy Lefroy have come to its defence (my emphasis):
"SIR – In the debate about British aid to India, we believe our programme in India is helping to rebuild lives and is also in Britain’s long-term interest. While it is true that India is a growing economic force, it is also home to a third of the world’s very poorest people. It is right for Britain to work with the Indian government to help tackle this dire poverty.
It is also right to ensure that our aid is targeted effectively. We welcome the Coalition Government’s radical overhaul of the Department for International Development’s aid programme to India: freezing the amount spent and targeting it at three of the poorest states. India is a vital strategic ally with whom we share extensive connections; more than 1.6 million British Indians live here. With India we share democracy, the English language and trade links that amount to billions of pounds. India will be an essential partner if we are to rebalance our economy and improve human rights around the globe.
Providing short-term support to ensure people in India can eat and live should not be contentious. We do not believe our aid programme should continue indefinitely, but now isn’t the time to turn our backs."
I certainly agree. DFID notes that "a third of the world's poorest people (living on less than 80p a day) live in India – more than in sub-Saharan Africa". Just because the Indian government has the wrong spending priorities, the poor citizens of its country should not suffer.
Other signatories include a number of business people plus Lord Popat of Conservative Friends of India and Baroness Jenkin of Conservative Friends of International Development.
24 Oct 2011 13:24:39
By Matthew Barrett
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This evening's backbench debate and vote on the possibility of a referendum on the European Union has dominated today's political news.
Conservative MPs, from both sides of the referendum argument, have been appearing in the media, and their words provide an insight into the possible themes of this evening's debate.
Arguing against a referendum as described in tonight's debate motion:
- Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe): "I believe that relationship has to change, and I believe Europe has to change. But we simply don’t know enough yet about what powers we could repatriate to this country, how the crisis in the eurozone would play. So it would be impossible to have a referendum, debate, and campaign until we understood those things."
- Sam Gyimah (East Surrey): "I think the big thing is, on an issue like this, how do you think about rebelling – I’m a relatively new MP, I got elected in 2010 – and what I look at is, is it a manifesto commitment, is it in the Coalition agreement, and where do your constituents stand. ... it’s very easy to rebel, saying that you’re speaking on behalf of your constituents, when maybe you’ve got 50 or so letters, and you’ve got to be careful you’re not speaking for the vocal minority, as opposed to the silent majority."
- Richard Harrington (Watford): "I think it is really absurd that people should be spending their time now, when the Government hasn’t even entered into the negotiations that it intends to do, where there has been no movement towards the pulling back of powers and getting benefits out of Europe, whilst reducing the things that people quite legitimately don’t like. .. The reason I’m opposing this motion is nothing to do with what any whips have said, or what David Cameron has said. It’s because I firmly believe it’s a ludicrous motion and it needs voting down."
Continue reading "Ahead of this evening's debate, Tory MPs rehearse the arguments for and against a referendum" »
24 Mar 2011 18:08:08
by Paul Goodman
I've found the following methods in yesterday's first day's debate on the budget - having earlier covered the speeches of Andrew Tyrie, John Redwood and Stewart Jackson.
1) Draw attention to the dire state of the public finances bequeathed by the last Government to this one.
This was the route taken by Jo Johnson (Orpington) -
"When countries that had public finances in a comparable state to ours last May are still fighting off the terrible spectre of sovereign debt default, it would be terrible folly to slow the pace of what is widely regarded as a necessary fiscal consolidation. Our policies are under intense scrutiny by the international bond markets, to which we are paying £120 million in interest daily. We cannot afford for our borrowing costs to rise, as they have elsewhere. We are paying 3.6% in the gilt markets on our staggering public debt. Other countries are paying rates closer to 8% or 9%, and Greece is paying a staggering 12.6%. We simply cannot afford to be complacent, as the Governor of the Bank of England made clear in a recent hearing of the Treasury Committee, at which he stated firmly that UK gilt rates would rise by three percentage points if we backtracked from the course of fiscal consolidation that we have outlined."
Johnson referred specifically to current events in Portugal, and today's debate will surely provide more of the same. Sajid Javed (Bromsgrove) made similar points, and also spotlighted the danger posed to the Government's strategy by rising inflation -
"Lastly, as has been mentioned, in particular by the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), there is concern about global inflation. Clearly inflation has been caused primarily by rises in the price of oil, metals and food, but in the UK, in particular, devaluation has had an impact. It has had a positive impact on exports, but it tends to import inflation too. What has not been mentioned today is the potential impact of quantitative easing - the policy of buying up to £200 billion of both corporate bonds and gilts. That has an impact on the money supply in this country and it is doubtless having an impact on inflation.
With RPI inflation at 5.5% - the figure was published yesterday-and our gilt rate at 2.37%, the real rate of return is negative on our bond markets and that is a very fragile situation for the markets. To put that into context, the last time that RPI inflation was at that level was in 1991. At that time, our five-year gilt rate was at 10.09%. Clearly if the markets woke up one day and decided that they were not going to accept such low negative interest rates any more, we would be in a much worse predicament. That underlines the need for continued fiscal consolidation."
2) Get specific when praising the Government's strategy.
Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) highlighted the planned increase in apprenticeships -
"Finally, I want to mention the advances that we are making on skills, which are vital to ensuring that our work force can sustain the jobs that we will hopefully help to create in the economy with the additional measures that the Chancellor has mentioned this afternoon. It is fantastic that we will have another 250,000 apprenticeships over the next four years. I am heartened by that, because young people have for so long been cast adrift, and this will help to bring them into employment and training in a sustainable way, and also in a way that will perhaps enable them to garner the knowledge to create their own businesses one day and employ others, which is what we have seen over many years.
I welcome the university training colleges, and I am sure that the large industrial companies in the west midlands will welcome that approach. I hope that it will help people to acquire the skills to fill what those companies are describing at the moment as a void. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover want to expand greatly, and they need a supply of skills to sustain any such expansion. They need skills from local people in the west midlands. We do not want to bring in people from other countries to fill that void."
3) Ground your speech in your constituency experience
Richard Harrington (Watford) used business trends in his seat to show the effect of Government policy -
"I want to talk about some specific factors that are important to business people, and therefore important to growth. There is a lot of talk about banks and the availability of capital, and about what the Government should do and what they have not done. Again, I want to comment based on my experiences in the constituency. The bank lending situation is getting better; there is no doubt about that, as the loans are beginning to come through. In Watford alone, under the enterprise finance guarantee loan scheme, 23 companies have already borrowed money amounting to £4 million. That is a comparatively small sample and it reassures me for the future that this scheme, which is to be expanded, does work, and that it does so in a comparatively short period of time.
It is very fortunate for us that interest rates are low, but the decisions made by businesses do not change when fluctuations are minor, such as 1% up or 2% down. Their decisions do change when the situation reaches a ludicrous point; I was once left with a loan on which I was paying 2% over base when the base rate was 15%. Variations such as 1%, 3% or 5% make little difference. Again, what matters is confidence in the economy and confidence that the Chancellor has done the right thing today. So I must encourage what the Government are doing on the fundamentals, because people and businesses will want to borrow money only when there is confidence in the future and confidence that we are doing the right thing."
4) Support the budget and float some ideas
Richard Fuller (Bedford) made a pitch with a strong social justice, One Nation flavour -
"In the context of protecting the most vulnerable, let me first urge Ministers to continue to give full support to the welfare reform measures that are being pushed through by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The universal credit will be of major, long-term, significant and beneficial advantage to low-paid and poor people in our country, and it is a measure that those on the Treasury Bench should support in the years ahead.
Secondly, I should have liked to hear a little more about support for our charities. I was very pleased to hear about the £550 million of support that the Chancellor was offering to them in the form of various benefits, but I should have liked him to be more radical. There are many steps that we can take to ease the rules and regulations and break down some of the barriers that prevent social investment from various sources. We should be a bit more open in relation to the way in which money can flow from social investment to outcomes and social impact bonds. I should have liked to hear about personal tax deductions for charitable donations, and I should very much like the Treasury-either directly or through the big society bank-to help charities to procure local government services. They need that support to arm them in their continuing battles with bureaucracies."
5) Finally, attack Labour.
David Amess does this on the first day of each year's budget debate, and didn't disappoint -
"Turning to the Budget, there is no doubt that this has been the most difficult and gloomy time I have known for people in business-until today. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his well-crafted and clever Budget, which will cheer up the country. It has already cheered up Government Members and, as colleagues will have observed from the general atmosphere among Opposition Members three or four hours ago, it has absolutely cheesed off the Opposition. I am getting sick to death with Members on the Conservative and, dare I say, Liberal Benches being castigated for the absolute mess that the country is in. One party alone is responsible for that-Labour. It is because of the Labour party that we are facing debt interest of £120 million a day and because of the Labour party that we have the biggest structural debt in the G7.
I want to share with colleagues who were elected last year what the past 13 years have been like. As hon. Members will know, the last Prime Minister was previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I had the experience of listening to 10 of his Budgets, which he greatly enjoyed delivering. He used to come to the Dispatch Box and two thirds of the way through his speech he would wind Conservative Members up. Then he would make what he thought would be the headline-grabbing news item that would cheer everyone up. But then we would all go away and people would read the Red Book and within a few weeks we would find out that what he had told us was not in any sense accurate. So I congratulate the Chancellor on the new Red Book, because unlike the previous one it is not big enough to use as a doorstop, which is all that one was fit for."
1 Feb 2011 10:43:48
By Jonathan Isaby
At yesterday's Defence questions, the Tory MP for Watford, Richard Harrington, sought Liam Fox's assessment of Iran's potential nuclear capability.
The Defence Secretary replied:
"Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons as assessed. However, it continues to pursue uranium enrichment and the construction of a heavy water research reactor, both of which have military potential, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. We share the very serious concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran not having adequately explained evidence of possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme. We will therefore respond accordingly."
As a supplementary, Harrington expanded on his enquiry:
"I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but in the light of recent comments by Meir Dagan, who recently retired as the head of Mossad, about Iran's first nuclear weapon possibly being ready by the middle of this decade, will he make a statement on how the Government intend to proceed in their approach to Iran's nuclear programme?"
In his reply, Fox said it was "entirely possible" that Iran could have a nuclear weapon as early as next year:
"My hon. Friend raises perhaps one of the most important questions at the present time, which is: how do we assess Iran's intentions and how do we assess the time scale? Despite his long experience, I think that Mr Dagan was wrong to insinuate that we should always look at the more optimistic end of the spectrum. We know from previous experience, not least from what happened in North Korea, that the international community can be caught out assuming that things are rosier than they actually are. We should therefore be clear that it is entirely possible that Iran may be on the 2012 end of that spectrum, and act in accordance with that warning."
An exchange then followed with Julian Lewis, a Tory defence spokesman in opposition, whcih raised the subject of Trident:
Dr Julian Lewis: What sort of signal does it send to Iran and other hostile would-be proliferators that our nuclear deterrent could be put at ransom in the event of another hung Parliament, as a result of our not having signed the key contracts and the hostility towards the replacement of Trident evinced by the Liberal Democrats?
Dr Fox: The Government remain committed, including in the coalition agreement, to the renewal of our nuclear deterrent. As I am sure my hon. Friend would expect, I will be campaigning to ensure that the next Parliament is not a hung Parliament, but one in which we have a majority Conservative Government.
The issue of Trident was then revived later in the session by a couple of Liberal Democrat MPs:
Continue reading "Liam Fox expresses his fear that Iran may have a nuclear weapon next year as Lib Dems demand to know if money is already being spent on components for Trident " »
2 Sep 2010 06:26:07
Here is the latest in our series of Twenty Questions with members of the Class of 2010...
Richard Harrington was elected MP for Watford with a majority of 1,425.
1. What is your earliest political memory? At the 1974 school mock election, I was the Communist candidate - typical 16-year-old behaviour! I joined the Conservative Party two years later.
2. Complete the sentence: “I’m a Conservative because…
I believe it is only the Conservatives that can provide the environment for the individual to prosper. It is only individuals prospering that will generate an economy large enough to really help those that need it.”
3. Who is your political hero and why? Has to be Churchill, because of his leadership powers, and the ability to unify and motivate people - in modern parlance, the quality to make people believe they can do it.
4. When did you decide you wanted to become an MP? Increasing anger from 1997 about the near disappearance of party organisation in seats we had held since 1979. Even by 2005 little had changed. I wanted to have the opportunity in a small way to show that this did not always have to be the case.
5. What is your reading material of choice? Has to be newspapers and magazines - The Telegraph and The Economist. And political biographies I'm afraid.
6. Who is your favourite political interviewer/presenter on TV or radio? Dermot O'Leary - because he appeals to young people.
7. If you could run any government department, which would it be and why? Business - to make direct use of 30 years' experience of running small and larger businesses; or DWP - because of the effect its role has on so many people's lives.
8. Which non-Conservative politician do you most admire? Historically, James Keir Hardie; more recently I would say John Reid.
9. Who would you least want to get stuck with in a House of Commons lift? Eric Pickles and Nicholas Soames - with the three of us in it, it would need a lot of people in the winching party!
10. If you were in the US, would you be a Republican or a Democrat? Democrat.
11. What do you enjoy doing to unwind and relax? An evening out with my family in Brighton - my second favourite place in the world (the first begins with 'W' and ends in 'd').
12. What is your favourite book? The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. Out of print, I think, but it shows how advertising shapes all of our lives
13. What is your favourite film? Animal House.
14. What is your favourite music? The Who, Bruce Springsteen.
15. What would be your ideal meal and where would you eat it? Japanese. Eaten in Japan by the fish market in Tokyo.
16. What is your favourite holiday destination? Brighton in the UK; USA abroad.
17. What do you most want to achieve during your first term in Parliament? Do something to actually be a part of implementing our Programme and see its effects improving people's lives in Watford.
18. Tell us one interesting, unusual or surprising fact about yourself. I had a market stall when I was 16.
19. Tell us one interesting, unusual or surprising fact about your constituency. Despite being less than twenty miles from London, it is treated by the party and the Government as part of Eastern Region, which it has absolutely nothing in common with, neither politically, economically or socially. I find this absolutely absurd.
20. Share with us your most amusing story or favourite anecdote from the campaign trail. Many panics, many overreactions, highs and lows. I had a lunch with Clarkson and AA Gill, at the height of 'Cleggmania', Clarkson told anyone who wanted an autograph or a picture, that he would if they could name one LibDem policy. Not one could!
> Previously: Marcus Jones MP
26 May 2010 07:00:00
The first of the 148 Conservative MPs of the 2010 intake to make his maiden speech was Richard Harrington, who rose for the first time in the Commons at 5.32pm yesterday, the very first day of the new Parliament.
Aside from paying tribute to his Labour predecessor as MP for Watford, Claire Ward, he began with a little self-deprecating humour:
"I fear I did not make the cut for Cameron’s cuties, so I have to rely on Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail.
He referred to my stature in Parliament as broadly equivalent to that
of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and of
the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right
hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr Pickles). However, I
think Mr Littlejohn was referring not to political stature but to my
He went on to emphasise the importance of encouraging young people to enter the world of business:
"To me, one of the most important parts of the
Government’s programme—this came out in the Queen’s Speech—is providing
a business environment where people are incentivised to create
employment for others. If I do nothing else in Watford, and in my
political career, I would like to be able to do this one thing: I would
like to change the attitude to business among young people, together
with a Government who are able to give them incentives to fill the
empty shops and offices, so that we make business something that people
want to do. I have spoken at many schools in Watford, and always to
very bright young people. I say to them, “What do you all want to do
after university?” but so few of them want to start businesses. It is
not fashionable, and it should be. Government can incentivise people,
but it is the responsibility of us all to encourage people to go into
"The very large number of young unemployed people in
this country—1 million—is obviously a scandal, but boiling that down to
individuals, I believe that it is the job of Government to facilitate
some form of change. I was delighted to hear in the Queen’s Speech that
the welfare reform Bill, much of which is based on our election
manifesto, is to provide interesting schemes, such as a mentoring
scheme for small businesses and sole traders to take in young people
and give them a chance."
Two further Conservative maiden speeches followed during the course of yesterday's debate on the Queen's Speech:
Mark Spencer, who gained Sherwood from Labour, began by comparing himself to his constituency's most famous son:
"Like Robin Hood, I have a desire to counter over-taxation, to protect the most vulnerable in society, and to make sure that oppressive government does not bring misery on the people."
He went on to outline his desire to see the promotion of localism and power being passed back down to lower levels, and called for driving without due care and attention to attract a three-point penalty on driving licences. He also welcomed the proposed abolition of regional spatial strategies:
"They have put enormous pressure on the greenbelt in my constituency, and they fill residents with fear. Those people live in villages and towns, but they cannot escape them at rush hour, because of the amount of traffic on the roads. I hope that we can find a method to give local authorities the power to look much more strategically at where they place housing, because there are areas of my constituency that need extra housing, and we would welcome developments not only for younger people who want to live near their families, but for older people who want to stay in their village."
The newly-elected Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, David Morris, noted that seaside resorts have more than their fair share of social problems:
"Tourism in this country has declined rapidly over the past 20 years, and in its place there is a lot of deprivation. I should like the coalition Government to do something to address areas of deprivation and the fact that sometimes in the forgotten-about coastal areas, social issues slip through the net. I would like to be a champion for the town of Morecambe and its regeneration plans, and I wish to say here and now that I will always fight the corner of the disadvantaged, not just in Morecambe but in all the other areas of the country that have similar problems."
He went on to speak out in favour of nuclear power - "I will always fight the corner of the nuclear power industry... because if we do not, in 10 years’ time the lights will go out" - and welcomed the Coalition's promotion of localism, whilst opposing the siting of wind farms in the middle of areas of outstanding natural beauty in his constituency.
As a candidate who unsuccessfully fought a seat in 2001, he offered his view that William Hague is "the best Prime Minister we never had".
As the rest of the new intake settle in to life in the Commons over the coming days, weeks and months, ConservativeHome will be seeking to highlight their maiden speeches as they make them.