Since the announced resignation of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, I have been asked many times and by many people – though few as doggedly as Johnny Jenkins at Gateway FM – whom I would be supporting in a Conservative leadership election. I have resisted, up until now, all attempts to coax an answer from me. Partly because I honestly did not know and partly because I think it is slightly pretentious for mere local councillors, such as myself, to pontificate on a leadership election whilst it remains the exclusive province of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. I am not a Member of Parliament and cannot vote at the 1922 Committee, so it seemed rather silly for me to ‘throw my backing’ behind any particular candidate.
Moreover, I have danced to this music before. I am old enough to remember the 2001 Conservative leadership election, following the resignation of William Hague. In the contest to succeed him, five candidates came forward and then dropped out of the contest one by one as I declared my support for them. The same happened in 2005 and a similar situation prevailed in 2016, when readers will recall I publicly backed Andrea Leadsom, who ultimately withdrew, allowing for the anointing of Mrs May. Although I do rather feel vindicated in the reservations I expressed about Mrs May at the time, you can see why I do not bother announcing my support for candidates. My backing seems to be like the kiss of death!
Nevertheless, we are now down to the final two and I actually do have a say at this point and it seems to me that it would smack of cowardly bet-hedging to remain tight-lipped on who I think should become the next Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and, thereby, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Those of you who read my write-up of the recent leadership hustings I attended, will not be surprised to learn that I have decided that I shall be voting for Mr Boris Johnson.
I like Jeremy Hunt a great deal. I have met him in person and I found him very genuine. He has been a very able and admirable minister under both David Cameron and Theresa May. But, sadly, he was a Remainer and, although I long for a day when we can finally stop judging each other based on whether we were for Leave or Remain, I placed my trust in a Remainer to deliver Brexit before and it did not end well. We live in a time when trust in politics, politicians, political institutions and our entire political process has scarcely been lower. The cynical machinations that have taken place in our Remain-dominated Parliament have shattered public confidence and, crucially, distracted attention from this Conservative Government’s many achievements. This situation has created not just an existential threat to the Conservative Party but to democracy itself. The only way to address this crisis is to deliver on the promises we made to the electorate and deliver Brexit. If we do not, if we fail to leave the EU in the way the country voted for in 2016, the Conservatives will continue to haemorrhage support to the Brexit Party, allowing Labour to creep up the middle and the very real dangers of a crypto-Marxist Corbyn government. We must restore trust between the electorate and the Conservative Party.
I do not pretend that I have no doubts in my mind whatsoever about Mr Johnson. It would be futile to pretend that Boris, as he’s universally known, is not, to say the least, a somewhat controversial and polarising figure. But he is not – no matter how doggedly his detractors on both the left and the right try to perpetuate the comparison – the ‘British Trump’. I am, frankly, not in the least bit interested in his private life. He is highly cerebral, articulate and charismatic and I think, with Boris, we have an opportunity to reach out to parts of the country other Tories cannot reach and restore confidence in our Party and in our democracy. I believe that Boris is the candidate that has the drive and vision to finally deliver Brexit, and in this Parliament. With his track record in London, Boris has proven abilities to lead, inspire and deliver.
I think it is time we had a Prime Minister who is totally committed to Brexit and who believed in it from the beginning. Mrs May’s problem, from the very start of her premiership, was that, as a Remainer, she necessarily treated Brexit as a ‘crisis’ to be managed rather than as an opportunity to be seized. I do not feel that I can once again place my trust in a politician claiming to have had a Damascene conversion to leaving the EU or rely simple on their commitment to democracy. I want a Prime Minister who supported Brexit before the referendum and who truly believes that Britain can and will prosper outside the EU and wants to deliver the opportunities Brexit offers. Boris showed during the EU referendum that he is a leader who can communicate a vision of Brexit and the world beyond it and make the case for why the Conservatives are the only party that can successfully deliver Brexit and a safe and prosperous future for this country.
I voted for Brexit. I felt it was one of the most brilliant and brave things the electorate had done in my lifetime. Despite all the doomsaying of the Remain campaign, the people of this great country voted clearly to leave the EU. It has been maddening in the extreme to watch MPs from both major parties, flout their manifesto commitments and seek to overrule the voters. The current Parliamentary arithmetic remains a major barrier to delivering Brexit but deliver it we must. The failure to do so is not only a stain on our democracy but is stalling progress on other domestic issues that desperately require big ideas. I believe that Boris Johnson, with his executive experience as Mayor of London, is the seasoned leader we need, committed to delivering Brexit, who can overcome the challenges from doubters, inspire the electorate, and lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union and the Conservative Party away from an electoral precipice.