York Press column – The Conservative leadership contest
June 13, 2019
The Conservative Party faces a challenge of epic proportions. Our task is to safely navigate a route to delivering Brexit, without inadvertently setting off a chain of events that leads to the most left-wing Government that this country has ever had.
To top it all though we are attempting this delicate operation against a backdrop of historic fragmentation in politics, with parties of the centre-right across Europe losing support to right-wing populists on the one hand and centrist forces on the other. If we don’t get this right, we face a triple crisis of increasingly ugly divisions over the failure to deliver Brexit, the collapse of the Conservative Party and a Corbyn Government. This would be a national humiliation and an economic catastrophe for the people of York.
It is against this backdrop that I have been coming to my decision about who to support in the Tory leadership race. Do we go for someone who has made an unashamedly moderate pitch such as Rory Stewart, Matt Hancock or Jeremy Hunt in the hope that we can get the existing deal over the line and win back the many lifelong Conservatives who are concerned that the party is being dragged to the right over Brexit and are now lending their votes to the Liberal Democrats. I like Rory, Matt and Jeremy personally and I respect their positive vision for the future of our country. I hope that their campaigns can add to a debate within our party about its long-term direction and the pitch we need to provide to young people if we are to build an election winning coalition in the future. In particular, Rory Stewart’s proposals around using the foreign aid budget to tackle climate change should be adopted by whoever becomes leader.
We cannot ignore however the fact that politics in this country has changed dramatically since David Cameron won the Conservative leadership on a similar platform in 2005. In 2016 Britain voted by a small but clear majority to leave the EU and in the recent European elections swathes of the country punished the established parties for their failure to deliver on this by backing Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Whilst there is no point trying to ‘out-Farage Farage’, voters will rightly turn their backs on us if we abandon traditional Tory ground on patriotism, security and community, values that remain as relevant as ever in our fast-changing world.
Mindful of this and after much thought, I have decided that the candidate best placed to fend off the threats that we face is Boris Johnson. Boris led the Brexit campaign and is the person most trusted to deliver it, something that will prove crucial in building support for a deal in Parliament. He has the ability and flair to conduct the remainder of the process in an optimistic and generous spirit, developing both a warm new relationship with our European neighbours and opening Britain up to the wider world.
Unlike many other politicians, Boris has a unique ability to cut across traditional political divides and appeal to a much more diverse audience. He is a strong campaigner and proved this with his London mayoral victories, winning twice in a strongly Labour city. The fact that a wide range of Conservative MPs who voted both leave and remain, and who represent both urban and rural constituencies have already come out to back Boris in this leadership contest is testament to this unifying quality. In short, despite previous reservations, I have concluded that the Boris that will walk into Number 10 will have far more in common with David Cameron than he will with Nigel Farage.
I have also listened carefully to what Boris offers to York. He has spoken passionately about the need for more school funding per pupil and a greater emphasis on Further Education and skills. He has promised to get more police back on our streets. He understands the importance of investing in infrastructure in the North, with a high-speed line linking East and West being a particularly exciting prospect for our city. Having spoken to Boris he is determined to properly address the regional prosperity divide that led to Brexit and York is well placed to reap the benefits.
He is the candidate with the strongest electoral record and the one with the broadest appeal. With these qualities I think he is best placed to unify and rebuild our party and ultimately, defeat Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage in a general election. This is what our country’s future depends on and that is why I will be supporting Boris in this leadership contest.