Danny Kruger is MP for Devizes and is a former Political Secretary to Boris Johnson.
I voted Leave in 2016, and I am glad that we are leaving the EU on Friday. The twenty-first century will reward countries that are nimble, agile and free, but Brexit is about more than Global Britain; it is a response to the call of home. It reflects people’s attachment to the places that are theirs. Patriotism is rooted in places. Our love of our country begins with love of our neighbourhoods. Our first loyalties are to the people we live among, and we have a preference to be governed by people we know. That impulse is not wrong; it is right.
As we finally get Brexit done this week, it is right that we are considering how to strengthen local places, especially places far from London. I wholeheartedly support the plans to invest in infrastructure to connect our cities and towns—the broadband and the transport links that will drive economic growth in all parts of the UK.
Just as important as economic infrastructure is what we might call social infrastructure: the institutions of all kinds where people gather to work together, to play together and to help each other. I make my maiden speech in this debate because I spent 10 years as the chief executive of a project I founded with my wife Emma that works in prisons and with young people at risk.
It was the hardest job I have ever done, and I worked in some very tough places. We often failed, but we were always close to the people we tried to help. Never bureaucratic, and never treating people as statistics or—a phrase I do not like—service users, we saw them as people whose lives had gone wrong and whose lives, but for the grace of God, could have been ours.
We are now trustees of that charity. If I might make a plea to Ministers, it is for them to recognise the role of independent civil society organisations—charities and social enterprises—in the fight against crime and, indeed, against all the social evils we debate in this place.
Social problems demand social solutions, not just a state response. Of course we need the police, the prison system and the probation service—we need them very badly, and we need them to be better—but, just as important, we need the social infrastructure that prevents crime, supports victims and rehabilitates criminals.
The Government have a great mission as we leave the EU and try to fashion a UK that is fit for the future. This mission represents a challenge to some of the traditional views of both left and right. The main actor in our story is not the solitary individual seeking to maximise personal advantage, nor is it the central state enforcing uniformity from a Department in Whitehall; the main actor in our story is the local community.
We need reform of the public sector to create services that are genuinely owned and cared for by local people. We need reform of business so that directors are incentivised to think of people and the planet, as well as their quarterly profits. And we need reform of politics itself to give power back to the people and to make communities responsible for the decisions that affect them.
I finish on a more abstract issue, but it is one that we will find ourselves debating in many different forms in this Parliament. It is the issue of identity, of who we are both as individuals and in relation to each other. We traditionally had a sense of this: we are children of God, fallen but redeemed. Capable of great wrong but capable of great virtue. Even for those who did not believe in God, there was a sense that our country is rooted in Christianity and that our liberties derive from the Christian idea of absolute human dignity.
Today those ideas are losing their purchase, so we are trying to find a new set of values to guide us, a new language of rights and wrongs, and a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences.
I state this as neutrally as I can, because I know that good people are trying hard to make a better world and that Christianity and the western past are badly stained by violence and injustice, but I am not sure that we should so casually throw away the inheritance of our culture. There is so much to be positive about. I share the Prime Minister’s exuberant optimism about the future, but we need a set of values and beliefs to guide us.
As we advance at speed into a bewildering world in which we are forced to ask the most profound questions about the limits of autonomy and what it means to be human, we may have reason to look about for the old ways and to seek wisdom in the old ideas that are, in my view, entirely timeless.
This article is an extract from the author’s maiden speech, which was delivered in the Commons last week.