David is a great man and has been a great Prime Minister. I am genuinely very upset that he will not be our country’s leader going forward. His departure is only just beginning to sink in and I think many will come to miss his pragmatic leadership. No one in the House of Commons doubts that he is a decent man, who has done an almost impossible job incredibly well. He has practiced the fiscal robustness and social liberalism that I wholeheartedly endorse. Under his watch, we have recovered from a recession: we have more jobs, apprenticeships and new businesses than our competitors, and generally have slowly turned this country around. He has reformed welfare, schooling and apprenticeships, but also addressed social justice in so many ways: as he put it when he spoke in the Commons on Monday, he is very proud of-
“keeping our promises to the poorest people in the world, increasing people's life chances, building a bigger and stronger society, and enabling those who love each other to get married whatever their sexuality.”
In an abnormal world, he is a PM that remains very normal, and very human. He is a family man and has real empathy. I cannot tell you how many Labour MPs have made clear their individual sadness at his departure. Whatever your politics, in the House of Commons we all get behind our Prime Minister.
I serve in the government Whips Office and, until his departure, I continue to serve the PM; I will also get behind and support 110% whoever is our new Prime Minister.
A decision has been made
I fought very hard to get the country to Remain in the EU, both in Hexham, and the wider the North. But the country decided differently, and by a decisive margin. I respect that decision and do not support a re-run. You cannot pick and choose your democratic decisions on the basis of whether you won or lost. But, as a result, we need to make momentous decisions in parliament about the way ahead for Great Britain’s future in the world.
The PM has put his approach to this dilemma in detail, as set out on my blog here:http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/yesterday-pm-came-to-parliament-and.html
I myself saw the issue of immigration as a key driver of why the campaign to Remain failed in the North East of England. And the PM addressed that on Monday, when he said:
"As I have said, I think that one of the most difficult decisions for a future Government will be how to balance access to the single market—the best we can get—with decisions about immigration. I do not know what exact answer can be found. The answer I found was welfare reform, which was bold and brave because it meant reducing welfare payments to newly arrived migrants. Those changes will now not go ahead, so that extra draw will continue for the next couple of years, but we have to find an answer to that problem. In a way, that is the puzzle we have now been set by the British people, which is, “We want access to the single market and we recognise the economic argument, but you’ve got to do better when it comes to immigration.”
But the PM has set out his intention to go, so we must look to the future.
I stress that I have not decided who to support, but it is right that I set out my views in outline, along with the issues I will be raising in the next week or so.
Candidates must now put their names forward to Conservative MPs and they will be gradually whittled down over the next ten days to just two. The final decision then rests with Conservative Party members to choose a new leader by 9th September.
A strong field of experienced candidates
At this point we do not know who are going to be official candidates, but my understanding is that the following are likely to put their names into the ring when nominations close this Thursday; in alphabetical order:
John Baron, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Nicky Morgan. There may yet be others, but not that I am aware of.
All the candidates I know well, some of who I have worked with closely.
At this point I think it is fair to say the main contenders are Theresa May, Stephen Crabb and Boris Johnson. I think it is a very positive reflection on our party that we have such strong candidates.
Theresa May is the longest serving Home Secretary in 100 years. I worked for her as a PPS in the Home Office from 2012-2015. She has done a very tough job as Home Secretary very well. No one works harder, and no one is more dedicated. She is, unquestionably, a serious politician. When I became seriously ill in 2011 she was unbelievably kind to me, and she was a delight to work for, albeit a hard taskmaster. In addition, I worked with her at length as Chairman of Women2Win from 2013-2015, an organisation that Theresa can be proud to have founded.
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP wrote of her support for Theresa here:http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/mp-backs-theresa-may-to-take-over-from-david-cameron/story-29452128-detail/story.html
Stephen Crabb is the recently appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; having arrived into parliament in 2005. Stephen was formerly the Secretary of State for Wales. I have also worked with him, as the DWP whip these last few months. He is clearly very able, and is a thoughtful, intelligent man. He also talks a language, and has a background and empathy, that both really matter right now, and will need to be addressed over the long years ahead.
Maria Caulfield MP wrote a piece in support of Stephen here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/29/why-my-fellow-brexiteers-should-want-stephen-crabb-as-britains-n
Boris Johnson is the former two-time Mayor of London. He returned to parliament in May 2015. As Mayor, he was a real moderniser and did a good job running one of the most important and complex capital cities in the world. I campaigned with him extensively on support for the Living Wage from 2012-2015, and there is no doubt that our efforts eventually saw a change in government policy. He clearly has an ability to connect with voters in a way few other politicians can.
Nick Boles MP wrote a piece in support of Boris here: http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/06/nick-boles-im-a-moderniser-i-backed-remain-and-heres-why-i-believe-johnson-should-be-the-next-conservative-leader.html
The big issues ahead
Whoever is our next Prime Minister, they have a number of fundamental challenges to tackle:
- They have to articulate what Brexit looks like? Crucially, they are going to have to spell out their approach to the single market and future immigration control. Does this mean qualified or full access to the single market? This is the key issue identified by Lord William Hague in his recent article this week: what is the relationship with Europe we are now aiming for?
As William puts it: “It will be difficult to cut any new advantageous deal with the EU, but if we don’t know what we want it will be totally impossible. Are we open to joining the European Economic Area, along with Norway and Iceland, which would mean ditching the commitment to control immigration – or are we putting migration controls first, and taking the economic consequences of that? The time for avoiding this question is over.”
- They are going to have to bring our country together given that the voting majority voted out, but there are 48 per cent who voted remain.
- And finally, notwithstanding the pre-existing Conservative Party manifesto, what are going to be their wider priorities for the country moving forward?
As I said at the beginning, I must stress that I have not decided who I will support, and I will be seeking answers to these questions from all candidates. It will then be for members to decide on who is the right man or woman, to lead the Conservative Party as the next Prime Minister.