Gavin Barwell is MP for Croydon Central and a Government Whip.
Re-unifying the Parliamentary party is the first test a new leader must pass. Then comes the much more difficult job of re-unifying the voters who elected us last May.
The referendum has split those voters roughly in half. Those who voted Leave are delighted that we kept our promise to hold a referendum and doubly delighted with the result. Provided we respect the result of the referendum, they may be supplemented by some of the nearly four million people who voted UKIP in May 2015 and some of those who didn’t vote at all.
Those 2015 Conservative supporters who voted Remain on 23rd June, however, are obviously less happy and some now regret voting for us. Here is a quote from one of the many emails I have received from such people:
“I am feeling guilty of having supported the Tories…in the last general election. I should have taken the referendum pledge more seriously and not assumed that the Tories will stick to a stable economy and the status quo, which is how I perceived the campaign against Ed Milliband”.
It’s clear that if the Labour Party replace Jeremy Corbyn with a more electable leader there’s a danger that the referendum result could do to our vote what joining the Coalition Government did to the Liberal Democrats.
I have worked for the Conservative Party all my adult life, starting in the final few years of the Major Government when we last allowed the European issue to rip our party apart through 13 grim years of opposition then gaining and last year just holding on to a marginal seat. If I have learnt one thing in those 23 years, it is that the Conservative Party’s strength is that it is a broad church. We must find a way of implementing the electorate’s decision that allows both Leave and Remain supporters to vote for us at the next General Election.
So when I vote, these are the two tests I will have in mind: who can re-unify our Parliamentary Party and the voters that elected last May. Because if we can’t do these two things, whoever we choose as our next leader won’t be Prime Minister for long.