Eleven years ago, I was one of the small handful of people working to make David Cameron the next Leader of the Conservative Party. In the early days, the media joked that you could fit all of us into a London Taxi. Our team included both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. David Cameron won in 2005 because he had worked out what the country really needed after Tony Blair. In power, his patience and pragmatism made coalition with the Lib Dems work. I wish he had stayed after the referendum. He did not need to resign. He could have shared power with a negotiating team and converted defeat in the referendum into a truly great legacy.
However, he didn’t want to continue, so Conservatives must now calmly work out what characteristics we need in our next Prime Minister. This contest comes at a difficult time. We have just been through a divisive referendum campaign that split our party down the middle and now we need to have a five way contest over who should be our leader and what is required next.
In 2005, we had suffered three consecutive General Election defeats and we needed something new: a leader who could broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party, connect with a new generation and offer a refreshing vision of how traditional Conservative values could be recast to tackle modern social challenges and disadvantage. We had the luxury of time to allow a new figure to grow into the job through being tested as Leader of the Opposition.
The challenge today could not be more different. This country has taken a really big, game changing decision to leave the EU. I believe history will judge it to have been the right decision but it will transform the way government works. There is no one in government today, either as a Minister or as a Civil Servant, who has ever known anything other than being told what to do by the European Union. We will need to completely change the way we work. The plethora of strategies, five point plans, ten point plans and other such short lived announcements that pass for government activity will have to stop. The era of seeing all government activity through the prism of ‘comms’ and retreating back into our shell when there are bad headlines will also need to stop.
There will be huge amounts of real work to do and many real decisions to make. Everyone at every level of government will need to raise their game. The political class will need to put to one side their craven preoccupation with getting good headlines and instead do what is needed. There will be difficult decisions to drive through in a timely way that will not wait for fair weather. Our diplomats and the government machine will be stretched beyond their comfort zone. They will need to learn to wield power rather than just engage in cosy relationship building.
Now that we have taken this big decision, we need a Prime Minister with the mettle to see it through rather than just get through. We need to shape events rather than just manage events. We need someone who will be willing to push our civil service out of their comfort zone in order to deliver the future our country voted for. We will not be able to duck confrontation or retreat into a comfort zone.
That is why I am backing Michael Gove to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. I think he has the mettle to see through the decision our country has taken. I think he has thought about what is needed. He is a man of decision and the right person for the challenges before us today.
I really like Boris and had warmed to the idea of a joint ticket. After the surprise developments last week I, like others, needed a few days to reflect on events. However, in the final analysis, I conclude that all Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom did was decide to stand. It was Boris who decided to stand down. It was open to him to carry on. He had many loyal supporters of his own and could have redoubled his efforts and fought back. Anyone who wants to be the next Prime Minister of this country will suffer far greater set backs than simply losing one of their key supporters in some leadership campaign. We will need them to show tenacity and resilience to overcome every obstacle placed before them.
This country has just taken a momentous decision and, if we shape events correctly over the next few months, we can deliver a great future for our country. We need the right leader to convert this decision into a success and I believe that Michael Gove is best placed to deal with the task.