Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
And then there were 13. With more candidates now than a football team, there is no doubt that the choice of Conservative Party leadership candidates before MPs is a broad one. With the entry of Sam Gyimah into the contest, the Brexit position of those who would like to be our next Prime Minister ranges from holding a second referendum to leaving on 31 October without a deal – and without even holding new discussions with the EU. And all the shades in between.
For the sake of full disclosure, I should be clear with ConservativeHome readers this morning that I have declared my backing for Michael Gove. Since he led the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, has a track record of delivery in Government and understands the complexities of leaving the EU, I believe he is ready to lead the county, to unite our Party and to deliver Brexit.
But he also recognises that this Government isn’t working for everyone and that putting this right will require a re-thinking and re-energising of our domestic agenda too. Yesterday, he pledged to restore real terms per pupil school funding to 2015 levels.
While some candidates might want to talk only about Brexit I believe this would be a huge mistake and I disagree with those who argue that the only policy that matters in this leadership campaign is each candidate’s position on Brexit.
Of course that is important – but to accept it is the only thing that matters is to accept that the EU obsession of some of my MP colleagues over so many years has been right. It hasn’t. And it was only when we stopped ‘banging on about Europe’ that we began to re-connect with the electorate. We need our aspiring Prime Ministers to show they can do the same. And the One Nation Caucus will want to hear more from candidates about their domestic programme when we hold our hustings interviews with them this week.
There will be many pressing issues in a new Prime Minister’s in-tray at the end of July. But there is one fundamental issue which is not getting nearly enough attention. And that is our economy.
As Conservatives, we have always jealously guarded our reputation for economic competence. Whatever our views on the EU I believe every Conservative can agree with the maxim that ‘eventually socialists run out of other people’s money’. We know how hard people work to pay their taxes, and we know how devastating losing our reputation for economic competence can be, as demonstrated by Black Wednesday in 1992.
The Government is due to start the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) about now. The Commons’ Treasury Select Committee which I chair has already been asking questions to the Chancellor, Treasury officials and thinktanks about the plans for the CSR. This is the first spending review for a long time which is not being held in the shadow of an election.
It thus provides a golden opportunity for governments when they happen to use the CSR to set their priorities for public spending, capital spending and how things are to be done differently. For example, we’ve waited so long for the Green Paper on funding of social care that it can probably now become part of the CSR process.
There is always a demand for better cross-departmental working on policy and spending bids, nowhere more so than social care funding, so the CSR can set a strategic aim of getting departments to reflect how our voters really live their lives rather than in the silos that Government can often dictate to them.
Any Conservative leadership candidate who focuses solely on Brexit will hit a brick wall with the Parliamentary Party, – because what these candidates want to do with the rest of Government will offer an important insight into how they want to resolve Brexit.
Because, as we know, fine speeches on the steps of Downing Street or in hustings won’t be enough. A real and detailed vision for the country they lead, over and above delivering Brexit, is what will set the winning candidate apart.