As this is my first column since the General Election, I would like to start by once again thanking the voters of Rutland & Melton for placing their trust in me to serve as Member of Parliament.
I found the campaign to have been conducted with respect and decency by all the candidates who put themselves forward, and I thank them for their contribution to an informed discussion about the issues facing us locally and nationally.
The scale of the Conservative victory came as a surprise to anyone who had been following the opinion polls over the past few months, which had insisted that a hung parliament was a foregone conclusion.
At the same time, however, the evident electoral resonance of the Conservative message of economic and political stability was reflective of many of the conversations I had with voters during the election campaign. The clear message was: the economic recovery is well under way, now go and finish the job.
In his speech outside Downing Street the morning after the election, the Prime Minister promised to govern as a party of ‘one nation and one United Kingdom.’ That means that we must ensure that the economic recovery spreads to all corners of the country and that we find a balanced and fair devolution settlement.
So, at the same time as honouring our commitment to increased devolution to Scotland, we will introduce English votes for English laws, to end the inconsistency of MPs for Scottish constituencies holding the balance of powers over issues only affecting England. We must also ensure fair constituency boundaries so that votes are distributed equally, and the current inconsistencies are ironed out.
Parliament now looks considerably different compared to a couple of months ago.
Three key changes have occurred: the number of SNP MPs has exploded from 6 to 56; Labour’s core support in Scotland has evaporated to an extent that would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago; and the Liberal Democrats paid a higher price than even they can thought possible, losing 49 seats and finding themselves with just 8 seats.
These three developments are important in their own right for the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems, but they also present lessons and problems for all parties, given that each of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom gave majorities to different parties.
Governing as a one-nation party means ensuring that people across the country feel like they are benefiting from the recovery, but it also means devolving power to each nation without weakening the bonds that keep us first and foremost a United Kingdom.
There will be considerable challenges for us to rise to over the next five years.
Meeting them as a majority Conservative Government, rather than a coalition, provides us a mandate to implement more of our manifesto than we were previously able to.
It is, however, worth pausing to credit the Liberal Democrats for their contribution to that Coalition government.
As the election proved, their decision was very much an example of putting the national interest above party interest, and I believe that history will judge their role more kindly.