Johnny Mercer is a member of the Defence Select Committee and MP for Plymouth Moor View.
We are in parlous times, and we need to be very careful as we pick our way forward.
Politics, and the country which we serve, is changing faster than we can currently keep up with. Make no mistake, Labour couldn’t give a stuff about our nation, or meeting the challenge of Brexit: a referendum where people voted to leave the European Union, of course, but were actually voting about far more than that as well, and giving a verdict on a political class that they thought had no idea – yet alone cared – what it was like to walk in their shoes. Labour are intent only on destroying our movement, our party; and if we let them, I don’t believe we will be forgiven by my generation who would have to live with the consequences.
So we must keep up with the change. One way we can do that is change the rules for how we choose who guides the next turn of the handle in the evolution of our Conservative movement: how we select our next leader.
Currently, MPs whittle it down to two candidates. This will inevitably lead to a Brexit and a Remain candidate – two issues which most of us cannot wait to move on from. Unholy alliances and promises of greatness to over-looked colleagues will ensure we end up selecting remarkably a similar outcome to what we have in the past.
The problem with that is, it is entirely in the opposite direction from which politics is going. We are a political party seeking a fourth term in office, from a country which is thirsty for real and authentic change. We must change with these times, or be changed by them. I know what option I want us to take.
With two candidates the whole contest will be about Brexit and the far too many of our members who have become frustrated with this all-pervasive process will remain desperately uninspired. What goes for the our Party goes for the country – they had enough of Brexit some time ago, and to see a Conservative leadership process take place on that particular ground would worsen not improve our current situation.
If one contender drops out, it again leaves no option but another coronation, which is not something for which I could personally advocate. For we are built upon our volunteers and activists; they are the pillars upon which our movement is formed. Without them we would not have a Parliamentary Party; we would not have seats like mine. In an age where people are crying out for more democracy not less, aching to ‘take back control’ of their Government and their party, it would now seem an appropriate moment to fast-track a change in the rules, in time for the next contest.
The current parade of grubby deal-making underway among the obvious contenders does not strike me as honourable in the circumstances. Members of Parliament are liable to being ‘bought off’ with promises of implied greatness; alliances are built of convenience over principle. It is in some ways understandable – to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail. But it does not seem right and – crucially – I am not sure it will give us the right answer.
Instead there is a huge opportunity coming shortly to have a genuine and engaging public discussion of what modern Conservatism actually looks like beyond Brexit, and we should take it.
MPs should select down to the last four, not two. Then our membership surely must have their properly weighted say, in a single transferable vote contest. The contest itself would be invigorating for our movement. It would electrify a country crying out for genuine political leadership. It would create an environment for authentic discussion of modern Conservatism.
We would reach out beyond our core vote to a country that longs for something to vote for but cannot currently bring themselves to get involved. Our membership would soar – they would feel like they had a real say, and candidates would be forced to reach out beyond Brexit and define the future, not the past.