By the time you read this we will know who the final two candidates are for the position of Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister as various voting rounds progress in Westminster. Leadership elections can be volatile and unpredictable. Front runners often lose momentum or come unstuck at later stages as doubts set in and others can come from nowhere. The parliamentary stage of the contest is run under the system called “exhaustive ballot” where you keep voting and eliminate one candidate from the bottom at each round until there are only two left standing who then go out to campaign amongst the membership. As I write this, there are still five candidates left in the race but by the end of Thursday there will be two.
Boris Johnson has a clear lead but has avoided public appearances as much as he can. His managers are worried that if he does interviews or appears in public he may make a gaffe or say something wrong so they are playing it safe and sitting tight while back room operators twist people’s arms to try to get their support. Although playing it safe is a natural human reaction when you are in the lead, it’s an approach that can sometimes store up future problems because if things do unravel they can unravel quickly.
Rory Stewart has been the candidate in this contest who has surprised people and gained more support than expected. However, at the BBC hustings this week, it was clear that he was simply going to persevere with the same identical plan that Theresa May has flogged to death over the last nine months, so there will be scepticism that he has properly thought through a way forward and he would probably become a divisive figure if he failed to commit to delivering Brexit properly and honouring the referendum result.
I am supporting and campaigning for Michael Gove because these are serious times and we need a serious Prime Minister who can get things done. Our next Prime Minister must deliver the biggest and most complex peacetime negotiation our country has every faced and must do that against the backdrop of a hung parliament and a divided country. They must immediately reverse the low morale and division in the Conservative Party caused by two years of drift. They must grab this sorry situation by the scruff of the neck and fix it. Time will be an enemy. There will be no summer break for whoever takes over, just hard graft.
It is not enough for the next leader to “respect” the 2016 referendum result - we have tried that and it didn’t work. The next leader must respect it, believe in it and, crucially, have the wherewithal to deliver it. I am backing Michael Gove because I think he is ready to lead, ready to unite our party and ready to deliver for the British people.
Michael Gove exercises judgement, has an eye for detail and he has the conviction to deliver Brexit. He led the Leave Campaign which was one of the most successful campaigns in recent history. Working alongside him in Defra I saw how hard he applied himself to ensure that the opportunities opened up by the leave vote were not squandered. He energised the department on his arrival injecting momentum and pace in everything he did.
This is a very close contest and by the time you read this you will know whether he has made it to the final run off.