It’s hard to remember a Conservative leadership election where so much has been at stake. The next few months will determine what happens with Brexit – and the future of the party for the next generation. History will judge Tory party members for the choice we make now. This is why – even though I appeared in one of Boris Johnson’s campaign videos – the choice is clear: Jeremy Hunt must be our next prime minister.
In the early days of this leadership race, that wasn’t my view. Boris is someone who needs no introduction. He was a leading figure in the Brexit campaign and remains one of Britain’s most recognisable politicians, here and around the world. I assumed that beneath the fizzing exterior, there was a detailed plan that would be equal to the task ahead.
Yet as the contest has progressed, I have found myself increasingly concerned by the absence of Boris’s plan. In hustings around the country, he has seemed blithely unaware of what we would do about Brexit. There have been vague citations of ‘GATT 24’ as the solution, only for these to be quickly dismissed by those in the know. I hear Boris boldly claim that we will be out of the EU – ‘do or die’, deal or no deal – on 31 October, only to discover that he thinks the chances of leaving without a deal are a ‘million-to-one against’. I hear no detail on why the EU will give him a better deal, or what he will do to prepare us for no deal. Even as a fan of Boris, it’s impossible not to find this lack of detail – and the contrast with Jeremy Hunt – deeply worrying.
The day after the 2016 referendum, I appeared on the front cover of the Daily Mail alongside my fellow Vote Leave campaigners in Peterborough celebrating the result. Yet three years later, this all hangs in the balance. More than that, we face the threat of a Marxist slipping into Downing Street on a low share of the vote because our electoral coalition is terminally fractured.
Amidst all this, it really is not much to ask for each candidate to tell us their plan. Optimism and warm words will not be enough. So as much as I love Boris, it is clear he is not the man to take the Tories – or Brexit – forward. The stakes facing the country and ultimately my generation are simply too high for us to pick a leader on affection alone.
This choice is made easier still by the alternative. Where Boris has fallen short, Jeremy Hunt is a man transformed. This leadership campaign has been the making of him as a national politician. Having first met him while campaigning in the most recent Peterborough by-election – and now having watched him at hustings as he answers questions on a whole range of topics with precision and thoughtfulness, winning over members with his quiet charm – there is no doubt in my mind that he is the prime minister we need. The public have been impressed too, as demonstrated by the transformation in his personal ratings and repeated polls now showing him as more popular than Boris among the broader electorate.
Yet the clincher for me has been the seriousness with which Hunt has approached this contest. On each of the big questions facing the next leader, he has been equal to them. On Brexit, he has cleverly defined the choice for the EU – a different deal that can demonstrably pass the British parliament, or a no-deal Brexit that Britain will now be prepared for. Hunt has clearly grasped the opportunities for our economy outside the EU too; look at his plans to slash corporation tax and fire up our economy. These are policies we should have been hearing from Conservatives for the last three years.
I would have liked to have heard all this from Boris. Whatever the outcome, he has a big part to play in the future of the Conservative party. Yet I cannot vote for a leader who does not think he needs to earn it, or who has not submitted himself to the task of telling us why he deserves the job. So I urge my fellow Tory party members: vote for Jeremy Hunt, you won’t regret it.