This morning I voted in the first round of the Conservative Party leadership contest just before getting on the train to come home. This is the first leadership ballot that I have participated in since becoming your MP and I wanted to set out my thoughts on the choice I have made.
Firstly, thank you to everyone who has been in touch over the last few days to let me know their views on this issue and who they think best equipped to take the country forward. We have had hundreds and hundreds of messages and I have managed to respond to about half so far – everyone else will get a response in the coming days!
It’s fair to say that the views of the constituency have been the full range – from “don’t vote for anyone” all the way to suggestions of colleagues who aren’t standing, along with all of the candidates in between. Throughout all of the emails remains a constant thread; that politics has not worked in recent months, that people want politicians to do as they promised and, for the majority, that they want us to get on with leaving the European Union. Given the range of diverse opinions, I know I cannot satisfy everyone with my choice (!) – but all of your feedback has been invaluable nonetheless.
On a broader level, I remain sad that it has come to this at all. Although my differences with the Prime Minister have been known for a number of months, on a personal level there is no doubt that she has tried very hard under very difficult circumstances. In another world, we might be in a different place – not least we might have left the EU. On balance and with regret, I do think the country needed a fresh start and so I think the Prime Minister has done the right thing in stepping down. Whatever our own views on the last few months, however, we should respect and thank Mrs May for her service to the United Kingdom.
The convention in contests like this is that MPs declare their preferred candidate early on. I chose not to do that and I did not immediately jump to support a particular candidate when the leadership contest first began. I wanted to hear what residents were saying and, bluntly, I wanted to see how the contest unfolded. I also tried to meet almost all the candidates themselves (sometimes several times) so I could understand their platforms better, to ask them questions and to see if they were the right person to improve both North East Derbyshire and the country. I’m grateful to them all for being willing to take the time to talk to me. One of the issues last time, in 2016, was that the party came to a decision very abruptly and, in my view, we need to go through this contest and ‘road test’ those who are seeking to be the Prime Minister to the best extent.
Part of the decision I have made on this subject has been the situation (or mess) we are in. As residents know, I support Brexit and have consistently voted for it to happen – with an acceptable deal (if one could be found – which it hasn’t yet) or without one. It was my judgement, therefore, that the best choice of leader needed to be someone who was committed to both Brexit and to holding firm on the 31st October deadline.
However, whilst we need to find a leader who can take us forward on Brexit we also need to realise that there are a whole suite of other policies which we need to do better on. North East Derbyshire is interested in Brexit but it is more interested in jobs, schools, hospitals and roads – and I want us to rebalance the conversation back on to policies which improve the day-to-day lives of everyone working hard in places like Dronfield or Clay Cross.
Having read all of the messages from residents in recent days, I made my decision yesterday and, accordingly, voted for Boris Johnson today as the positive choice for taking our country forward. I hope he is successful in the coming weeks.
Now, I know some people will very much like the decision I have made and some will not. Boris is someone who elicits strong emotions in people and that was reflected in the feedback I received from the constituency. Overall, however, the clear message from those in the constituency who got in touch was to vote for Boris. It is fair to say I have been on a journey myself to get to today. Yet, for what it is worth, in multiple conversations with Boris in recent weeks, I have seen someone who is serious, prepared and wants to do the right thing for the country. He isn’t perfect (and he would accept that) and he knows that he has a job to do to convince some people. But, as he has convinced me over time, I hope he can convince you in the coming weeks too.
The United Kingdom has got itself into a hole in the last year. We are an outward-looking, modern, tolerant, successful and brilliant place to live. We have much going for us and are, still, looked up to around the world. We should be proud of what we have achieved and we have a great future ahead, whatever happens. Yet, Brexit and the difficulties of the last few years, have weighed heavily on us and created tensions in our communities. Getting out of this hole is going to be very difficult – indeed, there is a chance we may struggle to do that in the next few months – but we have to try. And, in my view, the best person to do that is someone with a vision, someone who can convince the country to go forward and who make a fresh start after the difficulties of the last year. For me, that man is Boris.