‘What do you nutters think you are doing?’
There is something sacred about watching an elephant having breakfast in the wild. We had got up long before dawn and flown from Nairobi to a place called Lewa in north-west Kenya and we stood around in reverential silence as the sun came up and not 20 yards away a huge old bull ate his way through the top of a tree – crunching up leaves and branches with a noise like tearing linen.
We were silent because we didn’t want to disturb him, and also, perhaps, because we knew that this spectacle is increasingly rare and precious.
Unless we are more careful – unless humanity changes its ways – this is a sight our children and grandchildren may never see.
When I first went to Africa as a child, 40 years ago, there were still a few million of these extraordinary throwbacks from the Pleistocene. Now the best estimates put their numbers at only 415,000, and falling fast.
The Lewa project is a massive success. Elephant numbers are slowly coming back up. But all such efforts will be neutralised unless we can stamp out the ivory trade and the brutal poaching it promotes.
That is why it is such fantastic news that Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has done something that no Labour government dared to. He has gone for a full ban.
If we can address the two issues at once – habitat loss and the ivory trade – then the world really can save the elephant; and it is a campaign that Global Britain is ideally placed to lead.
And if I may address the issue of the hour – the elephant in the room, I suppose – the people of this country don’t want a general election.
For heaven’s sake: in the last three years we have had two elections and a referendum. They certainly don’t want to see a Tory leadership contest that would inevitably trigger further demands for an election.
What people want is for us all in government to get on with delivering priorities. At the end of this conference season, it is obvious that Tories under Theresa May have the better plans to take this country forward.
What does Labour want to do? Go back in time with a bonkers and unaffordable plan to spend £200billion renationalising industries in a way that would mystify our friends around the world. They would saddle future generations with debt and do nothing to address the real problems of this country.
It is we Conservatives who will help solve the housing crisis by tackling not just demand but supply, building the hundreds of thousands of new homes – mainly on brownfield land – that we need. It is we Conservatives who will help young people with the cost of their university education – in a way that is fair and sustainable.
At Manchester last week, I met a bunch of students who admitted they had all voted for Jeremy Corbyn on the strength of his promise to absolve them of their debts. That promise has of course evaporated since the election – and with it their trust in Labour. We need to get that point across.
We need a strong Conservative government to keep the economy moving forward and to raise the revenue to help with all these challenges; and the last thing we need is the neo-Luddism of Corbyn with his wacky plans for a tax on automation and innovation.
Above all, the people of this country want us to get on and deliver Brexit – and we need Theresa to do it. I have worked with her for years and I can tell you that once her mind is made up there is no one more implacable and determined in pursuing what she believes is right for Britain.
She will negotiate a great and successful Brexit that fulfils the promise to the people – to take back control of our laws, borders and cash.
As for those who have been calling for a change – well, it is no disrespect to the African elephant if I borrow again from the greatest walking metaphor the animal kingdom has ever given us.
When I first became an MP, our numbers had been cruelly reduced. The herd of Tory pachyderms was still composed of some truly magnificent specimens – but by 1997 we were down to only 165. Slowly and carefully under a succession of Conservative leaders our numbers have climbed back up to roughly double that total – and, never forget, 56 more than the Labour Party in parliament.
Are we really going to be stampeded myopically over the edge of the gorge, with an election that no one wants? “Quo quo scelesti ruitis?” as Horace put it at the beginning of a fresh bout of Rome’s ghastly civil wars, and which roughly translates as: “What do you think you are doing you nutters?”
From what I can see the Tory herd has refused to be so goaded. We have sniffed the air and turned sensibly away from the cliff. Let’s get on with it, get behind the Prime Minister, and govern as dynamic one nation Conservatives in the interests of the whole country. And let’s save the elephant while we are at it.
Above all, the people of this country want us to get on and deliver Brexit – and we need Theresa May to do it