Our next PM must be a proper Brexiteer
Personality can dominate debate but it takes someone with integrity and ideology to really lead
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?”
“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