Despite facing the challenge of reviving an economy and a country ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic, John Baron MP argues there is cause for great optimism when looking ahead for the Conservatives.

In his first speech outside No 10 the Prime Minister rightly took aim at the doomsters and the gloomsters who talk Britain down and sow doubt. Accordingly, though the ride was hairy at times, he steered the party and the country to a large majority and then lanced the boil by getting Brexit done by the end of January 2020 and securing a trade deal by the end of 2020, as promised. The hand of fate since then has been unkind to the Prime Minister and the Government, but there are many reasons why the doomsters and the gloomsters, including a few Conservative back benchers, were wrong then and remain wrong now. I remain resolutely optimistic.

First of all, the obvious fact is that the Government still enjoys a healthy majority. The Government faces no real challenge, seeing off rebels on all fronts, including me when I have been recently voting for amendments to the Fire Safety Bill. The Government may have problems on many fronts, but the arithmetic in the Commons remains firmly on its side.

Secondly, the Leader of the Opposition is still largely invisible and as a consequence is making little headway with the public. Thanks to his predecessor's mixture of incompetence and unsuitability, which led to Labour's worst result since 1935, to become Prime Minister at the next election Sir Keir needs to keep all of his existing seats and gain 128 to achieve a majority of one.

Thirdly, the Government and Prime Minister continue to ride high in the polls, despite all the events of the last year and the so-called 'sleaze' stories in recent weeks, and over the last months has received double-digit leads against an unimpressive and fairly anonymous Opposition.

There are certainly some issues with the deal, particularly as regards the Northern Ireland protocol, but overwhelmingly firms and their customers are successfully adjusting to the new arrangements, and business confidence on both sides of the border is picking up. The Director-General of the German-British Chamber of Commerce recently stating that many firms previously planning to relocate staff had now abandoned these plans.

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Gloomsters should also not overlook that prior to the pandemic our economy was performing well, with continued low unemployment (especially by most European standards) and our economy is showing good signs of bouncing back. This is one of the many reasons why the Department for International Trade has been so busy signing trade agreements with a whole slew of countries worldwide, as countries line up to deepen trade relations with one of the world's largest, most open and most dynamic economies; our membership of the CPTPP alone will give us access to an area accounting for £9 trillion of trade and generating 13% of the world's income.

There is no doubt that Britain was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the Government has not got everything right. Nevertheless, the public understands that it was a completely unknown virus, and the huge success of the vaccination programme vindicates the bold strategy of investing heavily in vaccines and drawing on the private sector in this effort. The lockdown and the vaccines are working together to bring down the virus, and the situation in the UK contrasts very favourably with that on the continent.

The success of the vaccine programme has provided yet another tangible benefit of the union to voters in Scotland, as has the extensive package of financial support from the UK Treasury, including the furlough scheme, to support jobs and businesses. As I wrote in my last column, unionists should be far from despondent. Opinion polling is essentially a dead-heat, and my view is that on balance Brexit actually makes separation less likely.

The SNP became rightly unstuck several times during the Holyrood election campaign as regards the question of a border on the island of Great Britain if it achieves its aims of leaving the UK and re-joining the EU and the Single Market. In this scenario voters are increasingly aware that the Single Market's border would be a matter for the EU Commission, not Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood, and the vexed years-long Brexit border talks with the Irish Republic mean that the challenges this would pose are not hypothetical.

As such, a vote for independence is a vote for a border for the first time in 300 years, unless Scotland leaves the UK but does not join the EU. in which case, why is Brexit the 'material change in circumstances' which apparently demands a second referendum?

Finally, Conservatives can also point to our levelling-up agenda, our One Nation policies like the rising National Living Wage and our ambitions to reform social care. The pandemic has understandably put the implementation of much of our 2019 manifesto to one side, but opportunities to put this right are opening up.

The election results last week are a good indicator of the country's mood. Significant Conservative gains in local elections and the historic victory in Hartlepool are a manifestation of both voters' satisfaction with current Conservative governance and their belief that Labour currently offer no credible opposition. Unlike the doomsters and the gloomsters, I believe it is a pretty fine time to be a Conservative at the moment.

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