TWO weeks ago, I received a call from the Chief Whip as I was travelling home late on the busy London Underground, clearly not the right place to have a serious discussion.
He left a short voicemail informing me that, as a punishment for voting against the Government that evening over no-deal Brexit, I no longer had the Conservative whip, meaning I could not stand as a Conservative candidate at the next election.
Twenty-one Conservative MPs had the whip withdrawn that night.
It seemed a very self-defeating Government move, to obliterate its own slender single figure majority. Opposition parties couldn’t believe their luck.
Closing down debate in Parliament and closing down debate in the Conservative Party isn’t a sign of a Government confident in its arguments.
However, in my own case, withdrawing the whip was also a pointless token gesture, because I’d already announced that I would not be running as a Conservative candidate.
After winning my seat back from Labour in 2005, four elections in Putney and being a local MP for 14 years, it had been a big decision.
For me, getting into Parliament, or indeed Cabinet, was never simply about having an impressive job title.
It was about making a difference, representing my community and getting things done. It was not about spending days, months and even years fighting about Brexit.
I was in Rotherham visiting my family there earlier this week. That town shaped me as a young person and I’m proud to have been born and brought up there.
The community I now call home, Putney in London, in some respects feels very different to where I began in Yorkshire.
People certainly have different views on Brexit, but what both communities have in common is a sense that their young people should be able to have opportunities to get on in life. If there’s any common ground in Britain, it’s surely that.
Whilst Parliament is myopically focused on Brexit, I found that I simply couldn’t and wouldn’t take myself away from the mission that gives me the energy to get up every day – delivering a country with equality of opportunity.
I know how valuable opportunity was in my own life. I know how hard to come by those moments were that put me on a better path.
I reject entirely that Britain still works based on who you know, not what you know. I reject entirely that too many people need a ‘lucky break’ to be able to fulfil their potential.
These things must change.
I am driven to put my time into removing the barriers for the generations that are coming through now. To make our country a place where we have a collective shot at success because we all have a fair crack at opportunity.
Britain may feel divided and directionless, but it’s the younger generation that can build our country into being great once again. To do that though, this country needs to change how it works, to unlock the talents of all. The status quo isn’t acceptable any more.
I’ve done my level best to represent my local community in Parliament – the messages of support I’ve had from local residents have been humbling to receive.
But I concluded that if I feel Parliament isn’t a place where I can work to get social mobility delivered, then I need to achieve that goal from a different place.
And I have one – the Social Mobility Pledge now has hundreds of companies supporting it, employing nearly three million people, including right here in Yorkshire.
If in Parliament we could buy our way to equality of opportunity, or pass a law and simply make it happen, a Government would have successfully done this already, and maybe I’d be staying on as an MP to achieve that.
But transforming Britain’s ‘who you know’ society will take much more – it needs to work with the other key players who determine our life chances and opportunities.
And that means companies and employers.
Whilst many in the Conservative Party bemoan the need to make a fresh case for capitalism, businesses involved with the Social Mobility Pledge are already showing their intent to have an impact on local communities that goes beyond just delivering a payslip at the end of the month.
They’re all on a journey – and some have gone further than others – but they’ve made a decision to change.
So I’m leaving Parliament to drive the change where it’s actually happening: on the ground. In Britain’s businesses.
Maybe one day our political system will catch up, but in the meantime I’m not going to let it hold me back from making the difference to our country that I originally came into public life to achieve.
* Justine Greening was a Cabinet minister in David Cameron and Theresa May’s governments. Born in Rotherham, she is standing down as a Conservative MP at the next election.
The Social Mobility Pledge
THE aim of the Social Mobility Pledge is to encourage business to play their crucial role in boosting social mobility in the UK, and highlight which businesses and employers are going the extra mile.
Only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high-income earner as an adult. Just five elite schools sent more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge universities than nearly 2,000 schools, which make up two thirds of the entire state secondary school sector.
Log on via www.socialmobilitypledge.org/aboutthepledge for further details.