ConservativeHome has sent a detailed questionnaire to all the Conservative leadership candidates.
We are also asking public questions of the leading contenders each morning – which are deliberately crafted to be as testing as possible.
First, Jeremy Hunt came back to us on them. This morning, we publish Michael Gove’s responses. Kudos to both men.
The questionnaire answers from all candidates will be published next week.
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1. You have the highest negative rating of any of the main leadership contenders in YouGov’s table, and other polling seems to tell the same story. How can you possibly have time to turn these round if there’s an autumn election?
A: Different polls tell different stories.
And I’m used to polls saying I can’t win. When I became chair of the Leave Campaign we were well behind in the polls and our chances were being written off. But we won with a rigorous. thought-through, campaign that I led from the front. I won the audience debates on Sky and the BBC that underpinned our victory.
And I know that if we have an election this autumn, without having delivered Brexit, we face Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street. But if we do deliver a good Brexit deal then we will enjoy a boost as a party and a nation which will put us in a much stronger position for the next electoral test. I have the conviction, experience and grip to deliver Brexit, and win the next election.
Beyond Brexit, we must also win back support we’ve lost to a range of parties. Look at the polling from Lord Hayward, the Tory electoral guru, and you’ll see that I’m well placed to help us pick up swing voters in a future election. Delivering Brexit and delivering domestic policies which restore hope to forgotten communities, liberate the potential of every individual and make free markets work for everyone will secure the future of our country, and secure electoral victory.
2. These scores seem to be not only a legacy of your period at Education under the Coalition, but a product of your treatment of Boris Johnson in 2016. Can voters ever see you as other than the man who knifed his mate?
A: Yes. The public aren’t interested in raking over what happened three years ago. They want to hear about the future – who has the right ideas, the ability and serious approach needed to deliver Brexit and bring the country back together. I can think of another former Education minister who was told at the time they ran for the leadership that they had an issue with their personal popularity – she went on to win in 1979, 1983 and 1987. The lesson is: do the right thing, and you’ll win.
3. There’s reason to think that these ratings are not fleeting, but rooted. How can your voice be heard above Tracey Ullman’s – and the caricature of you that she and others project into popular culture?
A: Every high-profile politician ends up being caricatured. That’s the nature of the job. But what voters want to see is a Prime Minister and a Government getting things done and making the changes people want to see. The public wants someone who can bring the country together and deliver Brexit, so we can move on and tackle the other big challenges facing us. That is the only path to winning the next general election and I am the candidate most capable of delivering.
4. Talking of Johnson, which Cabinet job, if you win, will you offer him (and how could you serve under him)?
A: Her Majesty the Queen wouldn’t forgive me if I announced a Cabinet reshuffle before she had appointed me Prime Minister.
5. What seems to be your Brexit policy – namely, requesting another extension – re-ignites the trust issue. How can you be relied on not to seek another…then another…then another?
A: I don’t want another extension, I want to get a better deal with the EU. There are those who have said we must leave on 31 October whatever happens, but if we’re almost all the way there and we need just a little extra time to get the very final arrangements over the line, then I would not give up on the progress we have made.
It also runs the risk of Parliament forcing us into a General Election before Brexit is secured. That would potentially hand Downing Street to a Corbyn government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. We could lose Brexit altogether, risk the future of our Union, and hand the levers of power to a Marxist. I set out just how awful that would be for Britain back in January in the confidence debate in the Commons.
6. Any extension must be a pathway to No Brexit, No Deal…or another extension, perhaps with a second referendum attached. How would you avoid the no confidence vote that could be sparked by any of these?
A: We need to honour the referendum result and deliver Brexit before there is an election. We must not blunder into a confidence vote which we could lose, triggering a general election. I am resolutely and categorically opposed to a second referendum, which is only advocated for by people who don’t like the result of the last referendum. Moreover, the biggest risk as I see it is that it would give Nicola Sturgeon the excuse she’s been looking for to try again at breaking up our precious Union – and as Prime Minister I will not let that happen.
7. As late as 2008, you described the Iraq War as “that rarest of things…a proper British policy success”. Is that still your view – and do you remain a neo-con?
A: No, it isn’t my view. I commended Tony Blair for taking action against a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, but it has become clear since that there were serious problems with how we handled the aftermath of Hussein’s fall from power. We must learn those lessons and I have.