I joined in 1995 when, despite the best efforts of John Major, the party was hopelessly divided over Europe and running out of steam. It needed new legs and I was prepared to offer mine to tramp the streets of Pudsey knocking doors and delivering leaflets.
Since then, I have held many offices in the party at local, regional and national levels and, until Wednesday, was chair of the Pudsey Conservative Association.
But, following Boris Johnson’s overwhelming victory in the Tory leadership election, I knew it had become a party I could no longer serve.
As I made clear in my article in The Yorkshire Post last month, I voted Remain in the referendum. I believe in the European Union, I support free movement and I want the UK to be an outward-facing country as opposed to a land that turns its back on its friends and neighbours.
Indeed, to quote one well-known journalist: “Britain is a great nation, a global force for good. It is surely a boon for the world and for Europe that she should be intimately engaged in the EU. This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms: the membership fee seems rather small for all that access.” The author is correct in his analysis. His name is Boris Johnson.
The comments are taken from an unpublished column written by the new Prime Minister in February 2016, just days before an alternative piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph in which he backed the Leave campaign. His pro-Remain article was later published by the Sunday Times.
His choice of horse was dependent on which he felt was most likely to carry him through the gates of Downing Street and into Number 10 after the referendum votes were counted. I do not believe he thought Leave would actually win. But that David Cameron would be so damaged by a narrow Remain victory that he would resign soon afterwards, clearing the way for a Johnson premiership. In the end, he had to wait another three years after his fellow pro-Leave frontman and campaign manager Michael Gove betrayed him, paving the way for Theresa May to pick up the poisoned chalice.
Recognising him as a troublemaker, the new Prime Minister sought to lock Johnson into collective responsibility by appointing him Foreign Secretary and it didn’t go well. That fact that Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe remains in Iranian custody as a result of his loose tongue stands as tragic proof of that.
He resigned in July 2018, blaming Mrs May’s Chequers deal. But he did not quit straightaway, instead waiting for fellow Brexiteers David Davis and Steve Baker to jump first to test the water in the party. In typical Johnson fashion, he also arranged for a professional photographer to picture him with his resignation letter before distributing the image to the media.
From then onwards, Johnson and his band of extremists sought to undermine Theresa May at every stage of the Brexit process.
Their aim was to seize power for themselves by playing to the hard Brexit leanings of the Conservative Party’s 160,000 members – many former Ukip supporters. I have no doubt that a large proportion voted for the Brexit Party in June’s European elections to hasten Mrs May’s demise.
In order to win and retain their support during the Tory leadership campaign, Johnson and his team peddled a reckless commitment to take our country out of the EU on 31 October “do or die”. This was a pledge I could never sign up to.
I instead supported Jeremy Hunt in the run-off, primarily because he wasn’t Boris Johnson. The final result, in which two out of three Conservative members supported a Johnson premiership, confirmed to me – as I stated out in my resignation letter – that this was no longer the party I joined 24 years ago.
The new Prime Minister’s subsequent purge of principled Conservatives from the Cabinet has simply underscored that this is a man who will do whatever it takes to protect himself.
He is now surrounded by right-wing ideologues who are prepared to drive our country off the proverbial cliff to achieve their Brexit dream.
And Johnson’s actions are being cheered to the rafters by a clear majority in the wider party. He has become a Conservative version of Jeremy Corbyn and the membership has become his Momentum.
I will miss spending time with the many good friends I have made through the years as we campaigned together in the driving rain and howling wind. I supported the Tories because I was proud to call myself a Tory. But the Conservative party I knew is now a relic of the past.
Dr Jason Aldiss BEM is a veterinarian who quit this week as chair of Pudsey Conservative Association.