Our next PM must be a proper Brex­i­teer

Per­son­al­ity can dom­i­nate de­bate but it takes some­one with in­tegrity and ide­ol­ogy to re­ally lead

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters to the editor - TIM STAN­LEY

Who should re­place Theresa May as prime min­is­ter? The an­swer is not who but what: a Brex­i­teer. And I mean a proper Brex­i­teer, not one of these late con­verts. An old money, Churchillquot­ing true be­liever who knows their Ar­ti­cle 50 from their el­bow.

Tech­ni­cally speak­ing, the po­si­tion isn’t va­cant. I’d rather it re­mained so. Theresa May is the only MP with any man­date from the elec­torate to gov­ern and I truly be­lieve she could turn things around given a chance. But party dis­ci­pline has been lost, as the row over Cab­i­net leaks shows.

The Tories are Dar­winian: they can­not be led by weak­ness. Hus­bands and wives are whis­per­ing in MPS’ ears: “You could do a bet­ter job than her, dar­ling. Your time has come.” And never, ever un­der­es­ti­mate the am­bi­tion of even the most anony­mous Tory MP.

A back­bencher once said to me, af­ter sev­eral glasses of wine: “The next prime min­is­ter will be some­one you’ve never heard of.”

I replied: “Such as?”

“Me.”

“And who are you?” “Ex­actly.”

I never did catch his name, which pre­sum­ably means he’s a dead cert.

The prob­lem is that the Tories usu­ally see things in terms of per­son­al­ity: who do they like, who do they think the vot­ers will like. Ide­ol­ogy counts for sur­pris­ingly lit­tle. But never has ide­ol­ogy been more needed. Those plot­ting against the PM should stop to think about why she’s in the mess she’s in.

One rea­son is that she wasn’t a Leaver from the start. Mrs May ac­cepted the re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum, yes, and said that she un­der­stood why it went the way it did. But she al­ways pre­sented leav­ing the EU as a hard, un­pleas­ant task that re­quired some­one of her stub­born­ness to pull off. We were rarely told about the ben­e­fits of leav­ing the EU. Nor, cru­cially, was leav­ing the EU sit­u­ated within Con­ser­va­tive phi­los­o­phy, prob­a­bly be­cause it was a poor fit with Mrs May’s own brand of To­ry­ism. She got the part about con­trol­ling the borders, but not much else.

For all Brex­i­teers, Left and Right, Brexit is a re­asser­tion of na­tional sovereignty that gives us the free­dom to de­cide our own fu­ture. But which fu­ture should we choose? That an­swer de­pends on the kind of Brex­i­teer you are. A so­cial­ist Euroscep­tic would like the lib­erty to reg­u­late the econ­omy more. A Tory Euroscep­tic gen­er­ally wants to dereg­u­late and trade freely. Dur­ing the elec­tion, Labour of­ten said that the Con­ser­va­tives wanted to turn Britain into Sin­ga­pore. Mrs May and her team de­nied that. A true-blue Brex­i­teer would prob­a­bly have cried: “Of course we ruddy do!” And whether the vot­ers want us to be a fa­nat­i­cally welld­is­ci­plined trad­ing hub or not, they’d agree that clar­ity and vi­sion on Britain’s fu­ture would’ve been in­fin­itely prefer­able at the last elec­tion to the mis­er­able fudge of­fered by Mrs May. It worked for Corbyn.

Mrs May blew the elec­tion. She then blew the af­ter­math by re­treat­ing into her bunker. One MP alone hit the air­waves to de­fend the Tory po­si­tion: Ja­cob Rees-mogg. No won­der he is tipped as a po­ten­tial leader.

If Mogg for PM sounds funny, that’s part of its ap­peal. Con­ser­va­tives have a sense of hu­mour; so­cial­ists who laugh at us don’t re­alise that we’re in on the joke. Don’t you think Mogg is aware that his suits are quaint and his vo­cab­u­lary is an­te­dilu­vian? He knows you know – and, cru­cially, he doesn’t care. He’s au­then­tic. He says what he be­lieves. He is cour­te­ous and kind. Mogg is an ex­em­plar of “in the world but not of it”. And, as this Chris­tian in­struc­tion in­tends, he makes the world bet­ter just by be­ing there.

This isn’t an ad on be­half of the Elect Mogg cam­paign: my point is that peo­ple re­spond bet­ter to philo­soph­i­cal pol­i­tics than the id­iot spin doc­tors re­alise. Oc­ca­sion­ally, one can vis­i­bly see Mogg chang­ing a voter’s mind – be­cause he speaks po­litely and wit­tily but without com­pro­mise with Left-wing rhetoric. Mogg is not alone. David Davis has emerged in the last few weeks as a man of stature and in­tel­li­gence. Boris John­son is say­ing ex­actly the kind of things to au­di­ences over­seas that need to be said here in Britain – that Britain is a world power and it is out in the wider world that we be­long, not stuck on the pe­riph­ery of an an­ti­quated EU. If only this global per­spec­tive could be com­bined with the moral case for small govern­ment at home – that in­di­vid­u­als, if left alone, are more likely to gov­ern their own lives bet­ter.

The sup­port­ers of John­son and Davis are al­ready brief­ing against each other. Brief­ing, ma­noeu­vres, tak­ing sound­ings – these are the dread­ful, dead phrases of pub­lic school pol­i­tics, not of se­ri­ous mod­ern de­bate, and that’s part of the prob­lem with the Tories. Their pol­i­tics is con­ducted in whis­pers, be­hind closed doors, and it’s not right. The pub­lic de­serves trans­par­ent de­bate. We have ques­tions that re­quire hon­est an­swers. Do they get Brexit? Can they make it work? The next prime min­is­ter must have a sense of destiny not just for them­selves but their beloved coun­try. FOL­LOW Tim Stan­ley on Twit­ter @tim­o­th­y_s­tan­ley; READ MORE at tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion

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