AS the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ve been doing something a bit differently. We’ve been taking the committee around the country – not just around the world.
We’ve been listening to find out what people want from a global Britain. We’ve been hearing what people say about our place in the world and trying to understand different perspectives.
And seeing what we can do to deliver them. Unless Britain’s policies can be viewed through the eyes of those who have asked us to deliver, how can we know if they’re working?
As Conservatives, we’re not afraid of government. We know government has its place. We know it builds on the essential building blocks of society: on families; on communities; on businesses.
So that’s exactly who we listen to on these trips. And we hear from them their perspectives. On travel, on trade and on engagement. We’re not afraid of international organisations either. We know they have a place and a role.
But just as the country is built on associations and on families, international organisations are accountable to nation states. The nation is the accountable unit. Not the multinational body.
And that’s why even though we are leaving the EU we are not leaving the community of Europe and our values and aspirations will continue to be shared across Europe. Working together, we will make sure that we contribute to each other’s prosperity.
Today, this will be through bilateral agreements and organisations like NATO, where we already play an outsized role.
But I would like to see that grow. I’d like to see our defence spending increase, so that we’re able to show the leadership that is so essential today: in challenging our enemies and in supporting our allies. We want to be what former US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis calls the US Marine Corps: “No better friend, no worse enemy.”
We understand the importance of those alliances. And we understand the importance of those international organisations and the rule of law. But those alliances do demand investment, and they do demand the effort we need to maintain those things we truly value: free speech, free trade, free markets and, of course, what underpins all of them: a free democracy.
Today, again, these ideals are being threatened. The age of the strong man leader is back. It’s on the rise. From Venezuela to Russia, we’re seeing autocrats repressing their people.
Sadly we are also seeing too many in our own country drawn in. Now I don’t just mean those who have spent decades providing cover for demagogues and dictators, like today’s Labour leadership. But also their fellow travellers who believe in top-down centrally-planned, nightmarish government.
There is no worse sickness than socialism. It comes back. And we know the result. You don’t just run out of other people’s money. You run out of freedom too.
It’s our job as Conservatives to call it out and to stop it taking root. Now that’s not just for ourselves, and in fact it’s not even for our country. It’s because Britain’s place in the world is to guard those values and to guard those freedoms.
I know we can do it. And I know we will do it. Because as an island of liberty and opportunity we are still looked to by people from around the world. And building on real skills, building on an open culture, building on competitive markets, we can be a partner to our friends and a prosperous home to our people.
These are not just our values, not just Conservative values. I think these are fundamentally British values. They empower us at home and abroad and they bind our communities together. And that’s why I’m proud to be a Conservative.
Tom Tugendhat is a Conservative MP and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. This is an edited version of his speech to the Conservative Spring Forum.