While Theresa May’s commitment to step down as prime minister after finalising the current phase of the Brexit negotiations was tentative, it has fired the starting gun on a leadership contest. And all the signs suggest that the leadership race will not just be a debate on where the next stage of the negotiations should go, but a serious battle for the ideological heart of the party.
Many MPs from all wings of the Tories have suggested that they would walk if certain candidates were to win the leadership – individuals like Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston have left at the mere threat of losing their statist influence.
We will have to wait and see whether the eventual result splits the party or unifies it, but there’s no doubt that all factions – blue-collar conservatives, neoliberals, one-nation Tories, hardline Brexiteers and more – will fight tooth and nail for control of the Conservatives.
What seems clear to many in the grassroots, however, is that a move to simply anoint one of the cabinet big beasts, old or new, would be a terrible mistake. And while, excluding David Cameron’s relatively meteoric rise to the leadership, that has typically been the way leaders have won their positions, this time must be different.
To anoint one of the obvious successors – Hunt or Javid – or somebody from the same mould as Theresa May in Lidington or Rudd, for example, would be a poor move. The same managerial governing style combined with a distinct lack of vision and weak commitments to “tweak-around-the-edges” will tell the electorate, who are overwhelmingly calling for a fresh start, to get ready for more of the same.
This time around, a long CV of major cabinet experience isn’t essential. Far more important is an acceptance of the issues that currently plague the United Kingdom – overt government interference in areas such as housing, transport and lifestyle – and a vision for how we can fix them. That means being bold and outspoken, listening to fresh ideas, and not writing off young people as socialists looking for hand-outs, but as the enterprising, liberal-minded generation that we are.
It is absolutely key that the next leader has a clear vision for the UK post-Brexit and the radical backbone to implement it. The Conservative party needs to be hauled back into the battle of ideas and give up on trying to force Labour-lite policy down the electorate like a cup of cold sick.
There is only one potential candidate who is firmly embedded on the liberal right and on the frontline of the battle of ideas: the chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss.
She is the only potential candidate with a bold, forward-thinking vision for post-Brexit Britain that reaches beyond the arguments of the past and offers the fresh start the Tories need. Under her leadership, the Conservatives would become passionate advocates of the market economy and free enterprise, while celebrating modern Britain in all its vibrant glory – exactly the body of economic and social reform that Britain needs.
Besides having the guts to take on entrenched interests and lobbyists such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Truss has her finger on the button when it comes to the key issues facing the UK. She has repeatedly noted that housing is the greatest issue we face – and that in order to fix it we can’t continue to tweak around the edges. She understands how we can boost productivity, as outlined in the Times this week, and she’s in favour of a simpler tax system that leaves more money in people’s pockets.
Under her tenure at the Treasury, we’ve seen an unprecedented hike in the personal allowance, not just top-down tax cuts which are politically unpopular and don’t always provide a major boost for the economy.
The other candidates are either too tainted at a time when the Conservative party and the country are in dire need of a fresh start, or they simply fail to put forward the bold policies we need to address the key issues of the day.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of 1828.