Unlike my position on the EU referendum itself, where I deliberately avoided participating in either campaign, I have decided to publicly state who – of the five candidates on offer – I want as the next leader of the Conservative party and, therefore, our next Prime Minister.
This isn’t an easy decision to make. All five candidates have both strengths and weaknesses, and it would be foolish to deny that. But this is the reasoning behind my choice. Looking at all five in turn…
To begin with, the two insurgent challengers, Stephen Crabb and Andrea Leadsom. Both of these have reasons to commend them. They both come across as being intelligent and good at making decisions.
However, they both also lack experience. It’s OK to elect as leader someone relatively inexperienced when in opposition, as they’ve got time to get used to being leader before they need to also be PM (and, if it turns out they’re not up to the job, we have time to get someone else in place before the election). But to take over mid-term while in office, you need someone with plenty of experience of a cabinet level post. Crabb and Leadsom just don’t have that. They may both be good candidates the next time around, but not this time.
I like Michael Gove. I admire his reforming zeal, and I think he’s done a good job at both Education and Justice. But I also think that when he said he wasn’t equipped to be Prime Minister, he was both honest and accurate.
I think Gove would make an excellent Home Secretary. I think he has the necessary One Nation sensibilities to make the right decisions there, and the intellect to come up with creative solutions to some of the department’s more intractable problems. But I think that should be the height of his ambitions.
Had Liam Fox been on the final ballot paper the last time around, instead of either David Davis or David Cameron, I might have supported him then. But I think he is yesterday’s man now. The only possible way he might get my vote is if he came through as the compromise candidate, the one who has both the necessary experience and the Brexit credentials (although, personally, I think the latter is almost entirely unimportant at this stage – we need the best PM, not the one who ticks any particular box).
Which leaves Theresa May. Of the five candidates we have, I think she is head and shoulders above the others in terms of both ability and experience, and there really is no plausible alternative.
Regular readers of my blog may be surprised to find me saying that, since I have been scathing enough about her – or, more precisely, the Home Office’s obsessive authoritarianism – in the past. And I still think that certain sections of the Investigatory Powers Bill – aka the “Snooper’s Charter” – are appallingly inconsistent with a Conservative approach to liberty and freedom.
But a failure to take on the vested interests of a small clique of civil servants is not, in itself, a reason not to support May for the leadership. She, alone of the five candidates, has both extensive experience at cabinet level and the qualities necessary to be Prime Minister.
It may seem to be damning her with faint praise to describe her as the “safe” choice, but safe is what we need right now. We don’t need someone who, on his own admission, is not cut out to be Prime Minister. Nor do we need someone who has no significant experience at the highest level of politics.
Theresa May also commands the support of the largest proportion of Conservative MPs. That alone is not a reason to back her – we ordinary party members have a voice, and a right to our opinion, too. But it is an important factor. The Labour Party is currently giving us a textbook example of what happens when the leader doesn’t command the support of MPs. That may not matter so much for the opposition. But in government, such conflict wouldn’t just be disastrous for the party, it would also be disastrous for the country. We need a new PM that MPs on the government benches are happy to serve under.
So, assuming that Theresa May is on the final ballot paper which goes out to Conservative members, she is who I will be voting for. I would urge my Conservative colleagues and fellow party members to do the same.