The next Tory leader needs to be a Brexiteer from outside the current Cabinet

The next Tory leader needs to be a Brexiteer from outside the current Cabinet

Now that we know there will be a Conservative Party leadership election this year – and possibly sooner rather than later – various potential contenders have begun setting out their stalls in articles, speeches and at events, under the guise of visions for the future, a new approach to Brexit and the changes needed to win the next general election.

The most likely names profiled by political journalists are those of senior members of the Government who clearly see themselves as well-placed to take over the top job: they have the experience, they are ready to hit the ground running and they know the current challenges inside out. In normal times, that all might make sense.

But, we are in anything but normal times. The usual ways of thinking from the old hands have fundamentally failed and have left us in a national crisis as a result. The Conservative Party has a huge amount of latent talent on the backbenches and, much like the selection of David Cameron in 2005, this is a time when we need a fresh and different approach.

Depending on when the leadership election is called, the new leader will either have to complete the process of taking the country out of the EU, or prepare us for trade talks in the second phase of the negotiations. With the Conservative Party having been in government for nine years and, as things stand, facing a radical leader of the Labour Party at the next general election, a new “steady as she goes” leader will doom the Conservative Party to defeat and the nation to a Marxist-led government.

The new leader therefore needs to possess a number of qualities.

They need to be respected by fellow MPs from across the party. The Brexit process has proven hugely acrimonious and driven a wedge down the middle of the parliamentary party. In order to move things forward in any meaningful sense, the new leader will need to be able to command the respect of their colleagues and be able to defend their record on Brexit over the past three years.

They will have to be a Leaver. Much of the current malaise can be attributed to the fact that a significant number of Cabinet members have viewed Brexit as a damage-limitation exercise from the start. This mindset has crept into all aspects of our negotiating approach and appetite for risk. The new leader needs to be someone who has always been at ease with the prospect of the UK leaving the EU and who will seek out every opportunity to make our exit a boon for the country.

They must be able to communicate honestly and clearly. One reason (out of many) for the near complete breakdown in trust in politicians is the perceived inability for them to be straight with the British people. Our new leader must be straight-talking and speak in language that most people recognise, not the strange politico-speak that most politicians adopted from the Blair era onward (“Let me be clear…”).

They need to be able to unify. The country is now riven by division, and not just over Brexit, but also between town and country; young and old; graduate and non-graduate. A new leader must reject identity politics, which only seeks to define people by their grievances, and must seek to unite people around a positive post-Brexit vision for the country.

If Conservative Party MPs narrow down the field of candidates and give party members only two current Cabinet members from which to choose, they will have failed. The party’s membership is up in arms over how the Brexit process has been run and is crying out for a new approach. I hope MPs look beyond the obvious big names to those candidates who are waiting in the wings and are ready to lead our party out of the EU and out of this terrible mess.