As published in The Daily Mail:
The local elections expose the problems the Conservative Party faces but there are no easy answers or simple solutions.
We face two stark challenges. Firstly, the Conservatives must deliver on Brexit as a matter of democratic necessity. We must respect our manifesto promises, alongside the votes of 17.4million people who voted Leave.
And the Government must do far more to embrace the diverse opportunities that Brexit presents – from taking back control over our laws, to forging an independent global trade policy – which it has allowed to be eclipsed by every conceivable potential risk.
As we look to the European elections later this month we must face the fact that the results risk being far worse even than the local elections. For many voters, the failure to leave on March 29 was a breach of trust and the European elections may well give us a hint of the reckoning with the voters that will follow.
Delivering on Brexit is a necessary condition for seeing off the threat of a hard-Left Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn. But, on its own, it won’t be enough. As Conservatives, we must now also offer a more compelling and inspiring vision for addressing the wider challenges the country faces beyond Brexit.
If it is done properly Brexit will precipitate a revolution in expectations. It will allow us to make the most of the newest and fastest growing markets in the world, in all the areas where we are world leaders, from financial services to artificial intelligence to genetics. And that will be the first stepping stone in delivering the sort of opportunity society that real conservatism offers.
It should be a strongly meritocratic vision, that puts into practice Churchill’s dictum of ‘a society in which there is a limit beneath which no person may fall, but no limit to which any person might rise.’
The Prime Minister has already made clear that she will not lead the party, or indeed country, as we enter the next phase of Brexit. A new more optimistic vision cries out for change and that requires a generational change in leadership.
A new leader will need to deliver a Brexit which is faithful to the demands of the referendum. He or she will need to be capable of uniting the Conservative Party behind an optimistic and authentic vision for the future.
The new leader will need to oversee a revolution of expectations among the electorate. Workers and consumers want a fairer deal. So, we will need fresh ideas to create the jobs of the future, boost take-home pay, and ease the pressures of the cost of living. Younger voters yearn for wider opportunities, including more affordable housing, and a reduction in the cost of living. Parents want us to continue to invest in and improve local schools, and broaden opportunities for their children.
To deliver, we will need a leader with focus and drive, a combination of conviction and tenacity.
There is no shortage of talent in our party, but the demands on him or her will be great.
Bluntly Brexit alone will require a unique combination of intellect, determination, decisiveness and courage. The next stage of Brexit, and the coming election will both be a real test of the character of the next prime minister.
With all these considerations the standout candidate is Dominic Raab, so I will back him if he runs.
I have known and worked with Dominic over the last 13 years so I know he has the vision and personal attributes required to lead us at these crossroads in our history.
He is the best-placed Brexit candidate to win the necessary support among MPs and party members and, above all, broaden our appeal to voters. The threat we now face at the ballot box requires a change in direction. And that change must be the first priority of the new leader.