As Neil Carmichael MP stands down at the end of his term of office as Chair of the Conservative Group for Europe, we thank him for his work during this time. We also look at how different the Conservative Party is now to what it was just five years ago and consider what the next Chair might face.

The biggest change of course is that the hard right would be ‘puppet masters’ in our party who have been accused of systematically manipulating and at times intimidating, have made their way into a position of prominence and control.

This has culminated on 29th March with the triggering of article 50 which has far from united the country, but rather further tore it asunder.

Our PM’s actions since then and her clear intent to destroy all opposition both internal and external and push for a hard Brexit are being met by derision on the continent and determined resistance at home.

The PM has, incorrectly in my opinion, been likened to Margaret Thatcher, who I had a lot of time for during my 10 years with the MoD and in so many ways there are major differences that makes this far from the case.

Theresa May has had a major say in who she wants as candidates to stand for election this June and following her probable re-election, she will no doubt make some important changes to her cabinet in order to further tighten her grip on power.

I further predict that given a free hand, she will look to reform of the House of Lords further limiting its powers in the process. This in turn will see the House of Commons ever more become the single legislative body of the country. Eventually if taken to its full extent, overturning hundreds of years of democracy.

Whilst this might well be ensuring the aspirations of a single minded career politician, what is it doing in the medium to long term to our party?

We can hardly say the past few years have been a roaring success as the NHS stands as but one witness to testify to this. Not to mention the National Debt doubling to £1.8 Trillion, despite austerity measures put in place to reduce it.

No, Theresa May has not been at the helm for all of this time, but her current actions have given little prospect of anything other than continued downturn and an ever harder approach.

All of this is causing both the PM and the Conservative Party to be demonised as a whole. But let us not forget that there are many moderates within our party, not least of all of course our own President the Rt. Hon Ken Clarke.

We moderates also have serious concerns with the direction in which the party has gone and it is time for us to stand up and be counted.

With this in mind, we turn our attention back to the election of the next Chair of the Conservative Group for Europe.

There has never been such an important decision to be made for both the future of our party and that of the Conservative Group for Europe, whose position was recent described to me by a senior member as ‘There is no doubt that the pro-European wing of the Conservative Party is in a parlous state’.

Whoever therefore he or she turns out to be, they must be prepared to be radical and yes even confrontational. To openly stand up to the hard right in our party.

They must be prepared to put the CGE firmly into the firing line and put what is best for the Country and the long term credibility of the party above personal considerations.

It is worthwhile reminding everyone at this point, that 185 Conservative MP’S were known to have voted remain in 2016 and at least 31% of the Conservative electorate for 2015 also voted remain in 2016. It is predicted that a third of these votes, some 11% of the whole, have already been lost to other parties.

Many members of the CGE with whom I have spoken too, have affirmed that they will be voting tactically in June, in order to challenge the government’s current direction. Whilst this is understandable, it adds further to the divisive nature of our party’s current position.

With 2% of the party being lost annually at this moment and the elderly, who are the core of the Conservative vote, being alienated, we are indeed in need of a new direction and a better party image.

It very much saddens me to say, that despite voting Conservative all of my life, I will be following some of my CGE colleagues in voting tactically. I will continue to remain a party member until or if circumstances dictate otherwise.

This will allow me to continue to challenge it from within, as I still believe that with the help of the CGE and my work as Campaign Manager for the European Movement in Lincolnshire, we can fight to get our party back on stream.

In so doing, this will bring about what is best for the country once more and not just for the privileged few, the hard right or a single minded career PM.

But nonetheless this will be my first ever vote that does not go to the Conservative party, as I simply cannot support my local MP John Hayes in the South Holland and Deepings ward. I still of course recommend voting Conservative in wards where moderates are standing.

And what of the future? Should the Conservative Party as a whole not be willing to change, then I believe that as the next two years even start to unravel, we will see far more radical developments.

The political landscape will change, people will wake up to the reality of the damage that is being done and the severe negative effects of Brexit will come home to roost.

And whilst following the June election, the hard right may go into back slapping mode, believing that their work is done, it is then that a true fight will ensue, it will not be pretty and it will most certainly be messy.

But this will inevitably see the emergence of a new centrist or progressive alliance, which will fight to change back the hard face the country currently portrays, to that of a more caring and acceptable one.

One where we as a Nation can start to rebuild our credibility with the rest of the world and our of course with our friends and near neighbours in Europe.

Author Dr Nicholas P George*

*Dr George is a National and Local member and Patron of the Conservative Party as well as a Party Donor through his Companies. He is also a member of the Conservative Group for Europe, National Member of the European Movement and the European Movements local Campaign Manager for Lincolnshire.

All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Conservative Group for Europe or the European Movement.