The four great chal­lenges our next prime min­is­ter must an­swer

The next oc­cu­pant of No. 10 will have to show ex­tra­or­di­nary lead­er­ship to unite a di­vided country

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - William Hague

It is in the na­ture of pol­i­tics that within min­utes of a party leader re­sign­ing, the minds of MPs turn to who the suc­ces­sor should be and, in par­tic­u­lar, the press­ing ques­tion of whether it should be them. In pre-dig­i­tal times, it was the in­stal­la­tion of a dozen tele­phone lines into a small West­min­ster pad that was a sure sign of a lead­er­ship hope­ful gear­ing up for ac­tion. Now the mass of text mes­sages and mo­bile calls goes un­de­tected, but you can rest as­sured that the num­ber of phone con­ver­sa­tions be­tween MPs this week­end was at least 10 times the nor­mal level.

Each MP is be­sieged with calls, test­ing, prob­ing, re­cruit­ing, as the can­di­dates try to as­sem­ble a cred­i­ble team of fol­low­ers or de­cide, with as much grace as they can muster, to be­stow their sup­port on an­other. Four days af­ter David Cameron an­nounced his de­par­ture and months be­fore the fi­nal bal­lot, a can­di­date who is not ready to run in the next few days has no chance. At mo­ments like this, pol­i­tics is fast and bru­tal.

This much is fa­mil­iar, but the cir­cum­stances are not. Last week’s ref­er­en­dum has ousted a suc­cess­ful prime min­is­ter who only a year ago won a fa­mous elec­tion vic­tory. It has prompted Labour MPs to now con­front the im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion in which their own re­cent lead­er­ship elec­tion placed them. And it means the new oc­cu­pant of 10 Down­ing Street faces a set of chal­lenges more com­plex than any of their pre­de­ces­sors have en­coun­tered since the Sec­ond World War. Noth­ing less than ex­tra­or­di­nary lead­er­ship will be suf­fi­cient.

How are the 330 Con­ser­va­tive MPs – and ul­ti­mately the 125,000 or so party mem­bers – to choose the new prime min­is­ter? There will be sev­eral can­di­dates who have the ex­pe­ri­ence, cred­i­bil­ity and knowl­edge to do the job. But the ques­tion must be: do they have the clar­ity of vi­sion to pro­vide a di­vided and un­cer­tain country with the con­fi­dence it needs, and do they have the strength of char­ac­ter to re­alise that vi­sion in the teeth of pres­sures that could tear apart their party and their country?

A new prime min­is­ter will need to have a clear plan the day he or she is elected, and a de­ci­sive man­date for it from their party. The mo­ment they ar­rive in the Cabi­net Room, for­eign lead­ers, ma­jor in­vestors and most of the Bri­tish peo­ple will want to know ex­actly what they are plan­ning to do. The Con­ser­va­tive con­fer­ence will be im­mi­nent. There will be no time to mud­dle through. This means each can­di­date should be ex­pected to set out how he or she will deal with four di­men­sions of the im­mense ques­tions fac­ing the United King­dom.

The first is to an­swer the ques­tion the Leave cam­paign most con­spic­u­ously re­fused to ad­dress: what is the re­la­tion­ship with Europe we are now aim­ing for? It will be dif­fi­cult to cut any new ad­van­ta­geous deal with the EU, but if we don’t know what we want it will be to­tally im­pos­si­ble. Are we open to join­ing the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area, along with Nor­way and Ice­land, which would mean ditch­ing the com­mit­ment to con­trol im­mi­gra­tion – or are we put­ting mi­gra­tion con­trols first and tak­ing the eco­nomic con­se­quences of that? The time for avoid­ing this ques­tion is over.

The sec­ond is the re­lated chal­lenge of giv­ing busi­nesses con­fi­dence to in­vest in the UK, or to think again about re­lo­cat­ing their op­er­a­tions abroad. Many of us ar­gued that the dis­ad­van­tages of leav­ing would out­weigh the ad­van­tages, but now the de­ci­sion is made, the worst of all worlds would be to suf­fer those dis­ad­van­tages with­out ex­ploit­ing all pos­si­ble ad­van­tages. The can­di­dates need to say how they would use “tak­ing back con­trol” to make Bri­tain a good long-term bet. Show how taxes on en­ter­prise can be cut steadily for a decade, pen­sions and sav­ing sim­pli­fied, and EU reg­u­la­tions aban­doned where they are too bur­den­some or counter-pro­duc­tive. With the City in a quandary as to what to do, con­sider adopt­ing US-style fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion in­stead of the EU model.

Which­ever side of the ref­er­en­dum the new PM was on, they need a lot of the peo­ple who voted Re­main to be ex­cited and in­spired by the pro­gramme of a gov­ern­ment that is now com­mit­ted to Leave. A se­ri­ous but rad­i­cal eco­nomic pro­gramme should be at the heart of that.

The third di­men­sion is scarcely less vi­tal: hav­ing a plan for keep­ing the United King­dom to­gether. The im­me­di­ate tac­tics of the Scot­tish na­tion­al­ists, aimed at ex­ac­er­bat­ing di­vi­sions be­tween Lon­don and Ed­in­burgh, were fore­shad­owed in what I wrote last week. Those who led the Leave cam­paign showed an in­ex­cus­able com­pla­cency about the fu­ture in­tegrity of the UK it­self, ig­nor­ing all con­cerns about Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence, the del­i­cate po­si­tion of North­ern Ire­land, and the ex­posed po­si­tion of Gi­bral­tar. The new prime min­is­ter must be some­one who has shown they have a fight­ing chance of sav­ing a Union that is now in crit­i­cal dan­ger.

The fi­nal di­men­sion is a more par­ti­san re­quire­ment, but still vi­tal for all of us who want to see the gains this country has made in re­cent years safeguarded for the fu­ture. The next Tory leader has to be able to keep the Labour Party pushed to the fringes of pol­i­tics, with a style of Con­ser­vatism that com­bines eco­nomic cred­i­bil­ity with a mod­ern so­cial lib­er­al­ism to dom­i­nate the cen­tre ground of po­lit­i­cal de­bate.

Today’s con­vul­sions in the Labour lead­er­ship are spec­tac­u­lar to be­hold. Their party could for­mally di­vide, or turn in on it­self in a new and bit­ter lead­er­ship elec­tion of their own. But Tories would be wise not to write off a party with such deep roots, that might still rein­vent it­self with more cred­i­ble lead­er­ship or reap the ben­e­fits of this new age of re­bel­lion and dis­con­tent. This means a strong do­mes­tic agenda for Con­ser­va­tives, build­ing on the Cameron years and ap­peal­ing to the peo­ple who feel aban­doned by glob­al­i­sa­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal change. Peo­ple who are low paid, or run small busi­nesses, or live in depressed towns, need to know that min­is­ters in White­hall un­der­stand their prob­lems and can help.

A leader who can sat­isfy th­ese needs is rare in­deed.

So my ad­vice to the MPs whose phones are now ring­ing red hot is this: it is no time to be nice to ev­ery can­di­date. If they don’t know how to cope with th­ese four great chal­lenges, they shouldn’t be our prime min­is­ter.

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