As published in the Mail on Sunday
The collapse of Liz Truss’s premiership had a sense of inevitability about it.
Almost from day one her Government was struggling.
Once she sacked Kwasi Kwarteng and junked her mini-budget, it was clear her days were numbered. Now the Conservative Party must choose its new leader – and fast.
The incoming Prime Minister will face an almost unprecedented plethora of problems, both global and national.
In short, the party and the country are in crisis and demand strong and above all competent leadership.
Just consider the range of challenges.
Internationally, the Russia Ukraine war is creating a cascade of disasters to cope with. For example the action by OPEC to restrict oil production will exacerbate the existing energy crisis.
The splitting of the world into the Russia-China and the Western allies blocs will jeopardise the huge progress in world trade achieved since 1995.
Additionally, the world has not managed the transition out of the Covid economic disruption, and that will continue to generate new problems.
Furthermore, the end of the era of almost free debt will be a shock to everybody from mortgage holders to small businesses to nation states. And I would be unsurprised to see a European financial crisis in the next year or so.
At home, we face a winter of strikes and energy shortages. Balancing the books will put formidable pressure on our public services. The NHS faces a huge backlog of cases, which means that tens of thousands of people will die unnecessarily until we fix it.
We could fill this page with the challenges the government faces.
What is more, after the tumult of the past few weeks – which followed months of Boris-induced infighting – the Party needs to be stabilised.
Credibility must be re-established, and that means having a high-quality Cabinet supporting a high-quality leader. This is no time for experiments and wild gambles.
I do not believe the next leader should be Boris Johnson. The last few months of his premiership were a total mess and caused great damage to both the party and the country.
He showed poor judgment and a lack of leadership over Partygate, the Chris Pincher scandal, and the general direction of policy towards the end of his time in office.
What is more, we have not yet had the results of the Privileges Committee inquiry into Partygate.
If the Committee finds, as it likely will, that Boris misled the House of Commons, then he could end up being suspended or expelled from Parliament.
In other words, Boris could end up becoming Prime Minister and being dumped weeks later – just as happened to Truss. That would mean yet another leadership election in a few more months. That is the last thing we need.
Frankly the public will think that we have taken leave of our senses. Penny Mordaunt and Rishi Sunak are both strong candidates for the top job. I have supported each of them at stages of the last leadership contest.
Both have shown competence and leadership in carrying out their ministerial responsibilities. I hope that whoever wins the race, Mordaunt and Sunak will be part of the top team. This time, however, my vote will go to Rishi Sunak.
Firstly, he is the leader that the international markets will trust, which paradoxically will save the Government from having to set out policies to dance to their tune.
Secondly, he has shown character and courage in the last leadership campaign, fighting his corner strongly and highlighting the risks of the Truss policies.
He effectively predicted what would happen and was proven entirely right. He is the only candidate who did that, against the dismissive stance of the Conservative Press.
Most of all, however, he would have the technical skills and the intellect to deliver the answers to the ferocious set of problems that we face in the next two years, and allow our great country to achieve its proper place in the world.
What is also clear is that electing Rishi will stabilise the markets whereas Boris would destabilise them. No amount of showmanship and charm will make up for costlier mortgages and dearer food.
It is not just about the leader, however.
In fact, the root of many of the problems faced by the last two prime ministers is that they picked their cabinets almost exclusively from a narrow group of personal supporters.
Boris essentially picked a Cabinet of cronies who he thought he could dominate.
He excluded a large number of talented and experienced ministers, and only made Rishi Sunak Chancellor at the last moment because Sajid Javid refused to be bullied by Dominic Cummings.
Liz Truss made a similar mistake, telling Grant Shapps that he was a good minister and articulate spokesman, but he was being sacked because he did not vote for her.
What the party and country need is a real meritocratic selection of ministers. It needs a Cabinet of all the talents.
Indeed I have been astonished by the fact that many ministers in the government agree with me, that we need a credibility reset, which in turn demands a Cabinet reset.
Fortunately, the new rules will not allow a repeat of what happened in the last race, in which numerous candidates who knew they could not win used the leadership election as a chance to get a job in the next Cabinet.
That is not what the leadership process was designed for.
Ministers should be selected based on experience and skill, not as a reward for ambition, loyalty, or sycophancy.
The challenges we face, from economic instability to the collapse of global trade deals and from vast NHS backlogs to the war in Ukraine, require a huge amount of work.
Only with top-quality ministers can we face these challenges down. This does not need to mean getting rid of the entire Cabinet.
In fact, it would be wise to keep some of Truss’s top team, and some of the wider ministerial team, in place.
Ben Wallace, for example, has excelled as defence secretary, performing very strongly in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He should stay in post.
And above all, the next government must be able to maintain market credibility. That is a strong reason in favour of keeping Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor. Hunt has managed to restore some stability during his time in office, short though it has been.
Given the sensitivity of the markets, it would be too risky to sacrifice this credibility by appointing yet another Chancellor – they would be the third in a matter of weeks, and the fifth in matter of months.
There are other capable people, but I will not list all of them. But we also need significant change, to bring in a wider variety of voices and a greater depth of experience to Government.
I hope that whoever becomes the next Prime Minister will put together a genuine unity Cabinet to navigate through the many problems we face.
There is a wealth of talent and experience on the backbenches.
About 40 current backbenchers have previously been in the Cabinet, and many more have served as junior ministers.
The next Prime Minister could pick from all those with good reputation, proven experience and pretty much guaranteed competence.
Our next leader should create a government of all the talents and not a government of all their mates.
The Party has a big challenge ahead of it, but also an opportunity to ensure the return of effective Government.
The events of the past few weeks and months have pretty much trashed the credibility of government and Party.
A reset of the Cabinet with a set of members of proven competence will give the public and the markets newfound confidence. That is the only way we will be able to compete at the next election.
And it is the only way to give the country the leadership it so desperately needs.