Jamie Greene is a Conservative MSP for the West Scotland region.
The 2019 leadership election comes at a pivotal moment in our country’s history. I do not have the arrogance to pretend that my individual vote counts any more than that of any other party member – I do have a duty however, as an elected Conservative politician, to set out my position to those who value my judgement.
We are not just choosing a party leader – we are choosing the next Prime Minister who will guide us through Brexit and lead us thereafter. That choice presented to us as members comes with a great responsibility during a tumultuous, unchartered period in British politics.
Our new leader must bring the party together, bring Parliament together, defy a haemorrhage of votes to the Brexit Party, stop Remain voters from switching to the Liberal Democrats, fight against the resurgent hard left socialist movement that is the Labour Party, and face down the threat of nationalism north of the border.
Our next Prime Minister must also be somebody who, with a new vision for the country, will champion the core entrepreneurial values that define our party. Our new leader must be someone who can reunite our divided country and take us beyond this whole Brexit saga, tackling the many challenges facing our nation head on. We need proper One Nation Conservatism that panders neither to any form of nationalism nor faux-liberalism.
The Conservative Party that I joined brought in equal marriage, gave tax cuts to low earners, had the most ambitious climate change policy of any G20 nation, brought down national debt but acknowledged when austerity had to stop and which gave, and still gives, hope that the entrepreneurial spirit of this country can flourish once more.
When I lived and worked in London in 2008 I campaigned for Boris Johnson to become the city’s Mayor. In the face of adversity his persona, some may say charisma, brought a certain hope to the city after two dismal terms of Ken Livingstone – and against the odds he defeated Labour. Twice!
I have great respect for the man and his persistence. I sometimes wonder how he has this perceived Midas touch that elicits such fervour amongst our wider membership. One might say that it has been a life-long unstoppable bandwagon, gathering momentum along the way.
Johnson had been touted as a potential leader of our party long before I was handing out leaflets for him in Gloucester Road a decade ago; but friends, those were different days and different times.
We are now faced with the real prospect of Jeremy Corbyn with the keys to Number 10 and the latest in a series of Brexit deadlines looms ever closer. The conundrum is this: I do not believe, for the same reason as many others, that Westminster, in its current form and make-up, will ever allow a No Deal Brexit to occur.
Disenchanted voters are flocking to smaller parties with single-issue agendas and here in Scotland we are facing renewed calls for second referendums on both Brexit and Scottish independence.
We need a unifying figure who fully grasps the complexities of the current political climate and guide the country through those waters. We need a serious leader to deal with serious times. We need a leader who I would be happy to send off on the Eurostar to sit around the table with the new political faces of Europe, be honest with them about the domestic mess we are in, and try to find a genuine workable way out of it that benefits both sides.
Brinksmanship makes for good headlines, but not necessarily good outcomes. We need a leader that allows me to knock on doors in Ayrshire and confidently say yes, I backed this man to lead us and he will make sure that Scotland’s role in all of this is centre-stage.
I do not care if this race is deemed a foregone conclusion, and it is a given that the winner will enjoy my support, but I am backing Jeremy Hunt to be our next Prime Minister.
Hunt has shown himself to be a shrewd businessman, a successful entrepreneur and a more than capable Foreign Secretary.
When the going gets tough, in my view you put your shoulder to the wheel even harder; you do not walk away. He has shown a renewed sense of character and grit in recent weeks – a side to him that was perhaps lost in his tenure in Health, such is the inherent flack the role bears.
The next Prime Minister must take a proactive approach to both strengthening the positive case for the Union and stand up against the threat of Scottish nationalism with equal aplomb.
Hunt made clear last week that defending Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom would come before Brexit and, crucially, he has vowed to put an end to Nicola Sturgeon’s UK taxpayer-funded foreign jaunts to talk up independence. It is therefore no surprise that he has proved popular with the Scottish Conservatives.
I know what some of you are thinking already: another liberal-minded, middle-class, centrist, north-of-the-border Remainer Conservative backing ‘anyone but Boris’.
That is not the case. I like Johnson. I voted for Brexit. I think Brexit categorically needs to be delivered. Failure to deliver the will of the British people will rip up the already fragile fabric of trust in referenda, in government, in parliament and in politics.
But know this, the Brexit endgame cannot mean just taking Britain out of Europe, there must also be a Britain left to take out of it.
These are dangerous times which require solemnity of judgment, the gravity of a statesman and the ability to find common ground in the unchartered waters of division and uncertainty. The needs of party members in Christchurch may differ from those in Kirkcaldy, but we have to find a way of balancing those needs, and we need a leader who understands that. Deliver Brexit, but not at the expense of the Union, I say.
Great leaders will come and go, but we as great laymen will remain and persist. We have a duty to choose wisely.