Scott Mann is MP for North Cornwall.
We cannot afford to make the wrong decision in this leadership election. We cannot shuffle around a few chairs at the top table and hope that everything will be ok.
We need new thinking and fresh ideas if we are to stand any chance of restoring credibility with our members and the voters at large. There have been many broken promises over the past three years and we need someone who can be trusted to lead. Mark Harper is the candidate who can offer this.
The first and most vital thing our new leader will have to do is knuckle down and deliver Brexit. Mark’s clear preference is to get a new deal. However, both he and I agree that No Deal must not be ruled out, should we be faced with a choice between No Deal and No Brexit.
Mark’s plan to deliver Brexit is the most credible and realistic on offer. It comes without the baggage of having sat around the Cabinet table during the past three years, going along with the decisions which have left us in the dire situation we face today. He is also being straight with you – saying that his experience as Chief Whip tells him that those who say it is possible to leave the EU with a new deal by October 31st are setting out ideas which are simply not credible.
The first stage in his plan is to do something that Theresa May and her Cabinet have never actually managed to do – agree a unified negotiating position, and be disciplined enough to stick to collective responsibility afterwards.
Mark’s experience as a respected and effective Chief Whip also demonstrates how he would be able to properly consult the Parliamentary Party and listen to colleagues, not lecture them. Yes, that will mean getting colleagues who have differing views about Europe into the same room to agree a collective position but, if anyone is up to that task, it’s Mark.
Instead of sanctioning the strategically disastrous talks with Jeremy Corbyn as those in the Cabinet have done, Mark has always been clear that the only way we are going to get a Brexit deal through is on Conservative and DUP votes with, maybe, just a handful of Labour votes on top.
What’s more, Mark’s plan involves doing something that it’s never clear that the current top team ever did – going back to Brussels to open real and transparent discussions to change the backstop.
The next part of his plan involves rebuilding strong relationships with both the Government and opposition in the Republic of Ireland, as well as both communities and all Parties in Northern Ireland. As Mark saw firsthand when he was Immigration Minister, UK and Irish officials work incredibly closely to combat illegality at the present border, so by getting Stormont up and running, and having a better relationship with Dublin, we can make progress in a way that hasn’t been possible under our current leadership.
The third element of Mark’s Brexit plan would be to establish better relationships with our European partners – I believe Mark has the communication and diplomatic skills required for this task.
Only through this plan can we both change the backstop and protect the UK’s constitutional integrity. That’s why I, as someone who campaigned for Brexit, and as someone who represents a part of the country that voted for Brexit, trust Mark to get us out of the EU.
However, our next leader doesn’t just have to deliver Brexit: he or she has to put us in a position where we can win the next general election and defeat Jeremy Corbyn, or whoever is leading the Labour Party at that point.
The first order of business would be to re-establish a proper, functioning Government. All too often, we have seen Cabinet meetings leaking, members of the Government getting away with saying whatever they want and a back bench Parliamentary Party and the wider membership horrified at both a lack of discipline and lack of grip.
Having not been involved in this Government and being a former Chief Whip respected by colleagues across the Party, Mark is a candidate who is capable of transforming the Cabinet back into a serious, decision-making body.
Mark also agrees that our leader needs to be more accountable to the Parliamentary Party (as set out in Greg Hands’ excellent article here) and that colleagues of all shades of blue must be treated with the respect they deserve. We must remember that we are all one team.
On domestic policy, Mark is right when he distils the values of the Conservative Party down into two elements – freedom and opportunity.
Mark believes that people should be in control over their own lives and that their hard work should be rewarded – and that includes keeping their taxes low. You don’t help people with the cost of living by putting their taxes up, and Mark will reduce the tax burden as we tackle the difficult policy questions that we face.
In the same vein, unlike other candidates, Mark will not be spending this leadership contest making lots of eye-catching but unfunded tax and spending commitments. The Conservative Party needs to retain the fiscal credibility it has spent the last nine years regaining and show it believes in sound money and living within your means. Taxpayers work hard to earn their money and politicians have a duty to spend it wisely.
When it comes to opportunity, Mark and I both believe in social mobility and are keen to see more people from our working class, state-schooled backgrounds have the chance to get the best possible start in life and fulfil their potential.
This not only means prioritising the needs of our schools, but also committing to further education and apprenticeships ahead of putting more taxpayers’ money into our already well-funded and successful university sector.
Finally, to touch on a dimension that is important to most colleagues, Mark is the only candidate in this contest who had to win their seat off another Party. As someone who has done the same in North Cornwall and has seen what an effective election campaigner Mark is in my patch, I trust him to have our back, and make sure we can all keep our seats (and gain some more too).
Mark may be the underdog in this race, but it’s always the underdog that has the best fighting spirit. That spirit is what our Party and our country needs right now.