This week’s column comes from Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling
This year, Britain saw one of the most dramatic examples of democratic power anywhere in the world. One vote changed the strategic direction of the UK from partnership through the European Union to a new relationship we must now negotiate.
Though the drama happened recently, it was shaped long before as the mood went from support for the EU in 1975 to rejection in June.
Many didn’t like the outcome. I campaigned for Remain. Some even reject the referendum itself and say David Cameron should not have called it. But that misunderstands where power lies in a political relationship. It is always with the people.
The decision to hold the vote and the outcome were both shaped by those who turned up, not just on the day of the poll but to the meetings that set the political direction long before.
These gatherings saw people choose candidates who shared their views, organise campaign schedules and delivery routes and, over time, change the outcome.
Political parties meet like this most weeks. These events aren’t grand and to some may seem boring, but that’s how candidates are chosen and policies decided. It’s where elections are won and lost. Whether national, county, borough or parish, those who show up get a say. Selections are often public, so if you choose not to go, you can’t complain about the decision.
But many say they’re not interested in politics. The referendum showed most are when it matters. Many say political parties aren’t for them, but like any team they are just groups of people who agree to cooperate for a common aim. They are coalitions with ideas as wide as the membership. Many say they don’t like to compromise, which they’d have to do to join a party, but life is a team game and we only achieve things by working with others. As Conservatives we know to compromise, but we also know democracy matters.
That’s why we’re cooperating to choose candidates for the Kent County Council election in 2017. Those elected will decide how some £1.8billion of our money is spent each year on everything from social care to potholes, so the choice matters.
In 2018 we’ll do the same for borough councillors and, in 2019, it’s my turn to ask if Conservative Party members would like me to be their candidate to represent our community in Parliament. Party membership isn’t glamorous but it matters, it is the foundation of our democracy.
You may ask yourself, why me? Well, why not you? If there are issues you want to change, get involved. By joining a political party, any party, campaigning, leafleting, or perhaps even standing yourself, you magnify your voice and shape the debate and change our community for the better.
Democracy isn’t something done to us on polling day, we do it to ourselves in the decisions we take long before we get there.
Perhaps that’s why so many people are now joining parties since the referendum – they know that only by taking part can we truly take control.
Tom Tugendhat, MBE, left the British Army in July 2013 after a career in which he served on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and as the military assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff. As a Territorial Army officer he worked on everything from those ops to establishing the Armed Forces Muslim Association. He also worked for the Foreign Office. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in the 2015 General Election. See www.tomtugendhat.org.uk