A week on from my last column, the psychodrama of the ministerial resignations is all behind us and the Conservative Party is now full steam ahead on a leadership race. The Prime Minster is standing down and in upholding all the normal conventions, he will stay on in a caretaker role until a new leader is elected. Labour, trying to get a bit of attention, has called for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minster, apparently missing the fact that ship sailed last week. They may catch up with events in due course, but who knows?
This is quite a fast moving process and my Conservative MP colleagues and I will narrow down the slate of 8 candidates, who secured sufficient nominations, to just 2. These finalists will be reduced to one by the wider Conservative membership during August. We will have a new Prime Minster by the time we return in September.
The list of 8 is extraordinary. Half are women. Half are of minority ethnic origin. A quarter have never served in the cabinet. This has been achieved not through any sense of needing to have selective candidate lists but through our party’s sense of allowing anyone with ability to succeed. This is not unusual. In 2016, both finalists were women. We’ve already had two women leaders and we may have a third. Or our first ethnic minority PM. Or both.
Last time round, in 2019, I backed Jeremy Hunt and supported him all the way through. He was the best candidate and I fought off endless approaches from Team Boris with offers of high ministerial office (no one with any self-respect should belief these offers). This time it’s far harder. I genuinely believe that six of the candidates putting themselves forward will make good prime ministers. All six are individuals who I would be happy serving in their cabinet or from the backbenches. The remaining two I would be happy to serve from the backbenches, and who I would be willing to endorse and support at the next general election.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the last few years have been chaotic and very difficult indeed. Since 2016 we have been in an increasing state of turmoil. But this leadership race marks a genuinely new and fresh start. We can finally move on from the arguments of the past.