The leadership contest underway is important for so many reasons and has wide implications. Though sometimes it may seem like an internal exercise, the outcome will have a far-reaching impact, and we should take this process very seriously. Already the number of candidates is starting to go down, and only those with a genuine core of support can enter and make progress. That’s good news – we can’t afford to take too long.
There are a number of things at stake, the most obvious one, of course, being our future plans for Brexit. The government – and by extension our party – has broken its promise on Brexit by failing to leave on 29 March. That has severely damaged the trust of the electorate, which is evidenced by the surge of support for the Brexit party. We can’t afford to do that again by delaying further. That would be damaging to the public’s confidence in our democratic institutions and have heavy consequences for our whole political system. We can’t ignore the referendum decision.
That’s why a new leader must be absolutely clear that 31 October is the end of the article 50 period. There is every reason to talk more with the EU about alternative agreements, but no sense at all in revisiting Theresa May’s plan, which is simply not good enough.
If the EU will shift their position, that is great, but in the likely event that they won’t, we have to be on the front foot, prepared and ready to embrace a free-trading future outside of the EU. That’s non-negotiable and narrows the field significantly. So many candidates in this race somehow don’t seem to grasp the scale of the problem we’ve created and think that the withdrawal agreement can be resuscitated with minor modifications.
A new leader must also be able to engage with voters across the whole country and understand the world outside of the Westminster bubble. They have to know the communities, like my Mansfield constituency, that have given us their support but need so much help in return to boost the life chances of local people.
If we’re to genuinely bring about social justice and help people to prosper, we have to reach out to the Midlands and the north, to our regions and devolved nations, with an engaging message – and an engaging messenger too.
These two things may seem obvious, but not all candidates seem to “get it”. Too many went along with the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement from the start and can’t claim to really believe in Brexit. Our next leader must be someone who genuinely believes that we’ll be better off outside the EU.
Too many simply aren’t able to reach out to the factory worker on Teesside, the hard-working young mum in Walsall, or the pensioner struggling to make ends meet in Aberdeen. In a post-Brexit world our “core vote” looks different, and a new leader must understand the communities we need to win over.
The right person to lead us is Esther McVey. Over the last year, she’s worked hard, through her blue-collar Conservatism project, to reach out to those communities, and as someone who spent her first years in foster care in Liverpool, she has an understanding that few in the senior ranks of our party can call upon.
So far in her campaign she’s set out plans that speak to those communities, using taxpayers’ money here in the UK rather than abroad, for example. Spending it on schools and policing rather than foreign aid so that our communities are kept safe and our children can flourish. She’s got her priorities right.
Esther believes in her message, and that’s vital. Some politicians blow in the wind, but she has a firm blue-collar agenda, and her message about the power of free markets and personal responsibility is one all Conservatives should embrace.
Unlike most candidates, she’s not promising free cash, she’s taking a political decision about priorities and being honest with the electorate. That’s what leadership is, and oh how we’ve missed it in recent years. She’s putting existing taxpayers’ money in the right places. She’ll end the persecution of our veterans. She’ll bring forward new regional transport projects to connect people to good jobs. She’s got so many right answers.
Esther has shown her Brexit commitment too. Like me, she resigned from her role rather than going along with a bad plan. She understands that we have to deliver on our promises and restore trust. She’d get straight on with ensuring our country is prepared and ready to prosper after Brexit.
So it’s an easy choice for me. I have not yet heard any other candidate make a case for true blue-collar Conservative values, and few have both the belief in Brexit and the ability to reach beyond the M25 in the way that she can.
I’ll support Esther McVey to lead my party and my country so that Brexit is delivered and the issues that matter to hard-working people in constituencies like mine are at the forefront of our agenda.