Though the race to be Tory leader has not yet officially started, more and more candidates seem to emerge every day. Some are more serious than others, with a few no doubt really hoping for a big job in the next government, rather than seriously thinking they could win. This leadership contest is a strange process, but one thing I know for sure is that our decision in the coming weeks will make or break Brexit, and will determine the future of our party and country. No pressure then.
There are a few simple and very important criteria for me. First our new leader must be a Brexiteer; they have to believe in it.
Not just for seats like mine in Mansfield, which voted 71 per cent leave, but if the Conservative Party is to survive the year, let alone beat Jeremy Corbyn at the next general election, we have to leave on October 31.
That must be our leaving date, come what may. Anyone who isn’t clear that they will absolutely rule out further extensions and delays is going to lead us in to oblivion.
Second, our new Prime Minister must be able to speak to people outside of our traditional base. If we deliver Brexit then that ‘core’ Conservative vote may start to return us, but we need to be able to reach working people in the Midlands and the North if we’re to succeed. Our leader needs to be engaging, down to earth and have a policy agenda aimed squarely at those people.
Just two very simple criteria, but they rule out an awful lot of people. Too many have gone along with Theresa May’s Brexit disaster without questioning, leaving their Brexit credentials in tatters. Too many simply do not have the ability to really engage and inspire people outside of the Westminster bubble.
The right person to lead us is Esther McVey. Having worked with her in recent months on the Blue Collar Conservatism agenda, setting out a clear platform for the party to reach out around the country with a genuinely ‘small c’ conservative message that’s been lacking from this government for a long time, I’ve seen the very best of her character.
First and foremost, she actually believes in things! This may sound like a small thing, but it’s strangely refreshing given where the party has been in recent years. For me there are two types of character in this race: there are the ‘weather vanes’, blowing in the wind and changing course on a whim, and there are ‘signposts’ who point firmly in the direction they believe is right. Mrs Thatcher was a signpost, and Esther McVey is a signpost. We’ve all had enough of blowing in the wind!
‘Blue Collar’ has put across both a set of values, conservative solutions for working people and listening to their concerns, as well as a policy agenda that my constituents will love. In recent years we seem to have stopped making the case for freedom and personal responsibility, but Esther will allow us to be proud of our values again. For most of my constituents charity begins at home, and whilst we should continue to help with disaster relief and supporting the world’s poorest, we can support emerging nations through our trade rather than handouts.
Let’s take Foreign Aid back to 2010 levels and re-prioritise, spending the difference on our schools and the Police. They are the issues that matter most to voters in areas like my constituency. She’s listened to what has been asked.
Esther’s a committed Brexiteer, campaigned for leave in 2016, and was brave enough to resign from Cabinet rather than go along with a bad plan. She understands that a broken promise can’t be fixed with more broken promises; we have to leave on October 31. She would prioritise our preparation for that. It’s sensible to be open to further discussions, but we need to be ready to leave if we can’t get a deal that works for the UK. She has a positive vision for post-Brexit Britain, and she’d seek a free trade arrangement with the EU on much better terms.
Having grown up in foster care in Liverpool, she understands the issues faced by my constituents, in working class areas, and in the north. She can speak to these leave voting communities. She’s also a straight talker, no skirting around the issues, and that’s vital if we are to restore trust in politics.
So for me the choice is simple, and I will support Esther McVey for the leadership of my party and this country; to restore trust, to deliver Brexit and to put the concerns of working people at the forefront of the agenda for the future. This is a massive decision, and I am confident that she can step up to deliver.
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