My statement below on the current election for leadership of the Conservative Party:
We are fortunate to have a talented and extremely diverse set of candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party. Indeed, it is hard to think of a more powerful statement of how our party reflects a modern, meritocratic Britain than to have candidates from such a range of demographic backgrounds – and literally every one of them has something unique to offer.
All that said, I have never believed in judging people by what they are, nor what they say. Ultimately, you judge someone by what they do in practice, especially when tested by great and challenging events.
I became PPS to Rishi Sunak - essentially his right hand man - just before the first lockdown in March 2020. It is hard to imagine how much pressure was on the shoulders of one young man, who had only recently become Chancellor of the Exchequer. In response to truly unprecedented circumstances, he worked incredibly hard to deliver furlough and all the other schemes that saved countless jobs and businesses – not least right here in South Suffolk, with many business owners stopping me in the street to thank me personally for all Rishi’s support.
I saw first hand the passionate, patriotic devotion to public service and the national interest that is at Rishi’s core, and is what we need from our next Prime Minister. Of course, we continue to face massive challenges, with a global cost of living crisis. Money will now be hitting peoples’ wallets from the help Rishi put in place, but he knows that in the long run the only solution is to tame inflation, and it is to his credit that he has promised to focus 100% on this – that is the right response, and in my view, a profoundly Conservative one. Literally every ounce of Government energy must be focused on the crippling cost of living, i.e. inflation, and the interlinked issues of fuel prices and Ukraine.
It should be remembered that in electing the next leader of the Conservative Party, as everyone knows, we are also choosing the next Prime Minister. That is no minor task. There will not be training or a few weeks off to get ‘up to speed’. From day one that new leader of our nation will face quite extraordinarily difficult decisions and challenges but I am totally confident of Rishi’s ability to rise to the occasion.
Thus, I will be supporting Rishi Sunak for next PM but hoping that, whoever wins, we can conduct a positive campaign and refrain from negative barbs. This is certainly Rishi’s approach – levelling as honestly as possible with the public about the challenges we face, so that we can restore trust and reunite the country. To build trust we have to tell people what they need to hear – even if unpalatable – not what they want to hear.
It is also important that the final decision is made by our party membership, but the contest is conducted in the public eye to give the wider electorate a chance to engage. Hence, I’m delighted that we currently have three TV debates scheduled for this evening, followed by one on Sunday and another on Tuesday next week. I understand that the first debate will air on Channel 4 tonight, Friday 15th July at 7pm. The next debate will air on ITV on Sunday 17th at 7pm, and a further debate on Sky News on Tuesday 19th at 8pm.