I have lived in Surrey since early childhood when my parents moved here from Hertfordshire. My father is an architect and my mother was a musician and a maths teacher.
I went to school just outside Guildford at school with a catchment area covering a large part of Mole Valley - so many of my oldest friends still live within the constituency.
I live near Newlands Corner, with my wife and our two grown-up daughters. My wife Sophie is an IT trainer - she works with large accountancy, legal firms and other companies training them on their IT systems. Our eldest daughter Dani, works in advertising strategy and our younger daughter Nicky is currently completing her final University year studying Marketing at Southampton.
In 2004 I sold my shares in the company I had founded. Building a successful business with a fantastic team of people had been challenging and exhilarating but I wanted to move on - to see if I could find a way to make a contribution towards helping to solve bigger problems.
Fortunately I found myself in a financial position that allowed me to dedicate some of my previous working hours to this.
As a result of my work with the media industry, I had gained a solid understanding of how it operated and I had become deeply concerned about the way in which it did so. It was very clear to me that the way in which the media-machine operated was in many ways unethical.
News was largely driven by commercial and political interests. The ‘news-agenda’ wasn’t driven by public opinion but instead drove public opinion for the benefits of those who paid for PR (Public Relations) companies to deliver stories to the media.
Intense competition in the print and broadcast media had resulted in there being relatively little true investigative reporting happening. It was far cheaper for media outlets to essentially outsource news generation to PR companies who would deliver a steady stream of news stories that print and broadcast media outlets would then convey onward to the public.
Often this news was delivered with little balance or investigation, or even validation of the underlying facts or counter-arguments.
This is still the case today. The result is that newspapers and broadcast news consists largely, with some exceptions, of assertions but lacks real rigour and supporting facts - something that is deeply corrosive for democracy in general and democratic decision-making in particular.
By chance. an old work colleague and friend had decided to run as a Conservative candidate for a County Council ‘seat’ - so I helped out with his campaign. It was a big challenge but we managed to win by a satisfactory margin of just 62 votes.
The experience gave me a good foundation of understanding to work on.
I got involved with my local Conservative association and met lots of local Councillors and worked directly with a very experienced campaign manager and agent from whom I learned a huge amount about the political process.
The experience gave me a good foundation of understanding to work on.
But I was reluctant to become a ‘party-person’ - I didn’t think the Conservative party had all the answers, by a long-stretch.
For me, politics should be a battle of ideas - a process to produce the best solutions to problems and challenges - not simply the ideas of a small group with a relatively narrow focus. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas.
Just after the 2005 General Election I was at a political meeting. The local constituency was discussing the problem of engaging with local people.
A new MP had been elected and was very keen to grow a broader-base of people to regularly engage with in the constituency.
The general consensus in the room was that it was impossible.
In fact around 200 people did turn-up. The place was packed - but the atmosphere was tense.
I had asked people to pre-submit questions for their new MP and one man stood up and angrily asked if the MP had been told in advance what the questions would be and would therefore be delivering carefully constructed answers.
I explained that I hadn’t told him anything, and perhaps more importantly, he hadn’t even asked.
It was an important moment. The atmosphere relaxed a little and for the next couple of hours our new MP tackled the pre-submitted questions and many more from the floor.
People spoke their minds freely and were encouraged to push their points and share their thoughts and experiences.
It was exhilarating. I learned a lot, and most importantly, so did the Member of Parliament.
The result was significant. Some of those who attended became actively involved in local politics and a few became local Parish and Borough Councillors. That early engagement had shown them that they could make a difference.
Unexpectedly, the Headmaster, who had lent me his venue, also ran successfully for the next local Borough Council and then went on to run for Parliament himself!
Following this I went on to organise many other events and worked on campaigns with many candidates for election. But I was highly selective in my efforts. I concentrated my time on working with people who I had got to know and who I felt had a genuine desire to improve the lives of others.
I wasn’t interested in party badges - just in the motives of the people I was to work with.
From there on I started taking up political issues and working with other campaigners.
At that time, I was running an e-commerce business 2-3 days per week and devoting the rest of my time to politics.
I felt the Referendum decision was probably the most important political decision that we would make - almost certainly in my lifetime.
So, I took the radical decision to close down my business and spend the next few months researching the issues in depth and sharing the result of my efforts with others.
I set-up a Facebook page called ‘The Great Brexit Debate’ and started on the research. Over the next months I absorbed vast amounts of data, interviewed people and produced video clips and written pieces on all the central issues surrounding the central question.
I gathered a following of many thousands and people shared my videos and articles widely.
By the time we voted on June 23rd my content had reached somewhere between 3 and 5 million people - a total of 19 million video views, articles read etc.
This interview with 'citizen-journalist' Paul Deach shows behind-the-scenes of the The Great Brexit Debate as it was in March 2016.
The site is still in operation and has 32,500 followers on Facebook and approximately 7,500 on Youtube.
After a few hundred hours of research I came to a very clear conclusion - The UK, as a truly global nation, was in many ways, not a good fit for the European economic model.
And moreover, because the EU demanded ever increasing, high levels of political and economic control, the UK was steadily losing control of the economic and political levers required to improve the circumstances of its people.
I reflected that my parents' generation had aspired to, and had largely achieved, the goal of giving their children better opportunities starting out in life than they had. Yet my generation’s pre-occupation was to try and figure out how on earth to simply help their children have an opportunity anything like as good as they had experienced.
It was a sobering thought.
The disparity between average salaries and house prices was damaging the social fabric. Most of my friends, and my generation. had been able to buy houses, build careers and started having families in their 20s.
Yet in 2016 the average age of the first time buyer was mid-30s, higher in the south-east, and was set to rise further.
At this time I was acutely aware that the Remain campaign were pumping out a steady diet of what became known as ‘Project Fear’ - assertions that were either unsupported or were based on bogus ‘facts’.
One example was the economic forecasts coming from Government bodies or external institutions.
They were based on an economic model called the 'gravity model’. Essentially what this model says is that the closer countries are to each other, the more they will trade with one another - trade will gravitate. It’s a generalised model based on some work done in the 1950s.
But this model simply didn’t, and today does not, hold true for the UK at all.
It was a device being used for political persuasion but it simply didn’t reflect the facts or circumstances in any way. The UK is an 80% services, 20% trade economy. (In fact it is now 81% services according to the latest statistics.)
The UK’s trade is global. The majority of our exports are to the rest of the world, outside Europe, where we face trade barriers and tariffs on goods on our exports - because we are inside the EU. And the huge volume of what we do is services - financial services, insurance, advertising, design, R&D, technical etc. Geography is largely irrelevant. Language, culture, common-law and global reach is where we benefit.
And the trade we do with the EU has very low tariffs on our exports - the supposed cause of our economic woes when we leave. The fact is that most of our exports have zero tariffs on them.
In 2018 our total EU exports were approximately £289 Billion.
The tariff bill, had we been outside the EU, would have been £5-6Bn - around just 2%.
Much of what we import from outside the EU has EU tariffs imposed - money collected by the UK Government but then 80% of which is paid to the EU (included in the £10-12 Billion figure above). Thats how the EU receives a large proportion of it’s funding.. and why they want to hold on to it.
Despite all the stories of financial doom and destruction, job losses etc Leave won. How?
Was it because of Dominic Cummings’ big red bus? If he had written the NET figure of our EU membership fee on the side of the bus instead of the £350m per week Gross figure would it have changed the result?
Surely not. The media made absolutely sure everyone knew it was the Gross figure.
So. Was it Nigel Farage’s poster of the winding queue of humanity that unleashed an overwhelming bout of latent racism in a country that by any measure is one of the most diverse, tolerant, integrated and outward looking on the planet?
I would suggest not.
Instead I would suggest that Nigel Farage’s poster backfired. And that the big red-bus actually obscured the true economic facts. By focusing minds on the argument about Gross vs NET EU membership fees, Vote Leave failed entirely to make the vastly more significant arguments about the true, hugely more important economic benefits of leaving.
Yet despite this, and despite the intervention of the US President even, and despite all the ‘forecasts’ of economic doom we voted to Leave… Why?
The ‘Leave campaign’ was largely represented by the mainstream media as ‘Vote Leave’ - the official ‘lead’ campaign. But in reality there were vast numbers of us who did research, produced content and shared it widely across social media networks.
So why did it not reach Remain voters?
Some of it did.
Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom
Mid-way through the campaign I was talking to an experienced politician about the phenomenal number of folks, who like me, to one extent or another had downed-tools to get to grips with the subject matter and share it with their friends, colleagues, neighbours and complete strangers.
‘Let a thousand flowers bloom,’ he said shaking his head in disbelief at what we were witnessing.
When the EU Referendum campaign was over I restarted my business and took a short break from Politics - I had some catching up to do and needed a few pennies.
I took little part in the 2017 General Election but I was relieved the outcome was as it was, because it wasn’t until after the 2017 General Election that we all realised that Theresa May had no intention of honouring the result of the Referendum.
Had she won a majority in 2017, there is little doubt she would have forced her proposal through.
The hopeful interpretation of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ turned to disbelief when the ‘Chequers’ proposal was delivered.
My response was to, once again, mothball my business and dedicate my time to campaigning against Theresa May’s attempts to keep us in the EU with her bogusly named ‘Withdrawal Agreement’.
During this period I worked with various campaign groups and was asked to work with the Bruges Group, a pressure group and think-tank that was set-up originally in 1989 with Margaret Thatcher as its founding President.
In 1988 Mrs Thatcher had made a famous speech at Bruges in which she outlined her vision of a European future consisting of close co-operation between nation states.
Whilst she made her speech, her audience of European leaders sat in stony silence. Their aspiration was not simply co-operation but federalisation - becoming one state through the inexorable process of ‘ever-closer-union’ to the logical end state of ‘union’.
30 years later the Bruges Group was still campaigning.
We organised a series of media events in Westminster with Politicians from all parties who were committed to leaving the EU fully - exactly as had been described by both Leave and Remain Campaigns - leaving the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the European Courts and not giving away national assets simply for the chance to negotiate a trade-deal.
In April 2019, I was unexpectedly invited to meet the Prime Minister at a well-attended private event. She looked exhausted.
Rather than leaving by the main entrance she escaped from a side door. I was standing outside speaking to another attendee.
He called out to her, ‘time to go Prime Minister’. She turned to say ‘yes’ to confirm the answer to his question and then in an instant realised it wasn’t a question at all. It was advice.
On a human level I felt sorry for her. But she had failed to do what she had said she would - yet another politician who made promises they simply had no intention of keeping.
When Boris won the leadership of the Conservative party and became Prime Minister pledging to re-negotiate with the EU I, like everyone else, waited with keen anticipation.
When he returned from Brussels with his ‘new’ Withdrawal Agreement, hailing it as a triumph, I couldn’t wait to see what it entailed.
Was it what we were hoping for?
On the 10th November Boris stated, in a widely circulated video clip, that he was now looking to do a ‘Super Canada Plus’ type free trade-deal with the EU without political alignment. This was a hugely significant moment. It meant that Boris was abandoning the basis of his ‘deal’ with the EU, which involved a huge amount of political alignment, and was instead pledging to do a standard free-trade-deal!
Boris' Video Clip is shown below:
The next morning, at 11am, Nigel Farage correspondingly announced that he was standing down his Brexit Party candidates in ALL Conservative constituencies.
But less than an hour later, things all began to unravel. Just after Farage’s announcement a tweet was released by Boris that reversed his position. He reverted to going with his deal on the basis it had been agreed with the EU.
As it all sunk in I realised that there were Parliamentary seats in the south in particular with Remain supporting Conservative MPs unopposed by anyone from the Lib-Dem and Labour parties who was committed to delivering the democratic result of the Referendum.
The implication was stark. It meant that if the Conservatives were to win a majority, there would in all likelihood be a large proportion of their MPs who were committed to a Brexit in Name Only (BRINO) solution to the question and who would strongly support Boris’s deal being pushed through Parliament.
I had repeatedly seen, close-up, how Members of Parliament would set aside their own judgement, and the interests of their constituents to fall-in-line with their political party’s position on issues, and to vote with their party in Parliament.
I had been in Parliament, in the bars, restaurants and meeting rooms when speaking to them about political issues and had seen them go off to vote knowing that they very often hadn’t even read the legislation on which they were voting.
The very people who were supposed to be scrutinising laws being passed, and propose amendments to avoid negative, unintended (or intended) consequences simply didn’t do the job they were supposed to be doing. Why bother reading all the legislation they reasoned - their whips would tell them how to vote anyway.
N.B. Whips are MPs whose job it is to make their party MPs vote in-line with their party’s position.
The party system was failing. The ‘Remain Parliament' of 2017 was damaging the country. Party politicians who are forced by the system to lie every day lose connection with honesty - they beggar their diminishing integrity daily. I didn’t want to stand for a Party if it meant I couldn’t vote for my constituents - that was the whole point.
But by the evening of Tuesday 12th November I had started to realise that perhaps the time had come for me to stand - as an Independent - free of party ties.
I had received various messages throughout the day from contacts across the country who were having similar thoughts. It seemed there would be quite a number of Independent candidates putting themselves forward.
I had fallen asleep late, turning things over in my mind.
Could I do it?
Mole Valley had voted 47% to Leave in 2016 but added to that, I had lost count of the number of people I had spoken to who had reasoned that even though they had voted to Remain, they
wanted the democratic vote implemented - democracy simply couldn’t function if democratic votes were overturned before they were even implemented.
I felt this particularly keenly myself. I am 50 years old. I grew up during 'The Troubles’ - a period when the IRA turned to the bullet and the bomb rather than the ballot box to attempt to resolve their aims. I knew from this, and from the hundreds of examples that litter the history books where things can lead.
In 1996 my wife was working daily at Canary Wharf. Fortunately, she wasn’t there the day the IRA blew it up. She was pregnant with our first daughter at the time.
By morning, following a late night conversation with Sophie, my wife, my mind was made up.
It was time to hit the phone and see if friends across the constituency would support my effort and sign my nomination papers.
Running for Parliament at such late notice without a party machine in support was going to be a tall order. But I knew that if I could get my message out, there was a chance I could do it. And the idea of independently representing people I love, in area I love, was deeply appealing.
The aim was, and is, not just to get elected to work with other Independents and party politicians to deliver a ‘proper’ Brexit that can deliver a prosperous future for our country - rather than being tied into the EU without votes or vetoes but giving away many of our Sovereign rights and assets.
But also to start to push back against what our political process has become. To truly represent the people who I, if elected, will stand for. To employ everything I had learned over the last 15 years about political engagement and decision making to really be able to make a big difference.
There is, quite simply, a possibility that we can start a political revolution - to make our national politics more accessible, more accountable and much more effective. To make it honest, inclusive and purposeful. To replace cynicism and scepticism with engagement because people know that I will act in their interests alone.
And if you will vote for me - it can start right here in Mole Valley.
Robin Horsley, November 2019.