Our endorsement for the Conservative leadership contest


A few months ago, if anyone had given us the current crop of Conservative leadership candidates and asked us what our preference was, it would have been unthinkable for us not to answer –rather enthusiastically– that our option was Michael Gove. A mostly classical liberal Tory, thinker and reformer, Mr. Gove would have been our choice without question. But everything has changed after Britain voted to leave the European Union, and after Mr. Gove decided to put all his passion and energy in campaigning for the irresponsible Brexit side of the battle.

Whereas a few years ago Mr. Gove was a liberal force within the Conservative Party –pushing for a modernizing agenda on personal freedoms and immigration–, he ended up campaigning on the side of Nigel Farrage, being a leading voice for a campaign that was based on untruths, nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

So who should we support instead of our erstwhile preferred candidate? It should be clear that, at a time when the UK faces political, economic and constitutional uncertainty, experience and stability must be the main factors affecting this choice. Of all the candidates running for the Conservative leadership, only Home Secretary Theresa May passes these tests. Mrs. May has the experience and temperament necessary to lead what will no doubt be a traumatic transition for the UK. Moreover, she can provide the stability needed to reassure financial markets and negotiate a pragmatic deal with the European Union. Finally, her status as a senior member of David Cameron’s cabinet during the last 6 years will erase the doubts regarding her mandate to carry on without calling for a general election.

But what about Mrs. May’s values? While we have disagreed with Theresa May strongly on immigration and her support for the government’s “immigration cap” –which, as expected with any restriction on immigrants, has been a total failure–, we find her overall record that of a conventional conservative with liberal elements in it. She is neither a right-wing extremist nor a toxic social conservative on the mold of Liam Fox.

Many of Mrs. May’s challengers for the Tory leadership are now accusing the Home Secretary of threatening to deport EU residents already in the UK after her comments on a TV show last Sunday. In truth, all that Mrs. May said is that you can’t define this and other issues before having an overall strategy to enter negotiations with the EU. Certainly, the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK and UK citizens to remain in the EU is a main item in those future negotiations. It is rather ironic to hear many of the leading Leave campaigners –among them two leadership contenders, Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove– talk about how “people are not bargaining chips” when they led a referendum campaign based on fear of immigrants and foreigners. Have they suddenly become passionate defenders of migrants’ rights? Forgive us if we don’t buy this charade.     

What about the other candidates? We’ve already talked about why Michael Gove should not be awarded with the leadership –and thus, prime ministership– after selling out most of his ideals and honesty on the Brexit campaign. On the right flank, Liam Fox is unacceptable from a liberal perspective. His toxic social conservatism would bury the Tories for decades and his right-wing populism has no mandate on the electorate. Finally, Stephen Crabb and the new “star” of the Tory right –unknown to most just a few weeks ago– Andrea Leadsom are not up to the job of Prime Minister. Choosing an unknown quantity like Mrs. Leadsom for Prime Minister would represent another “leap in the dark” as Remain campaigners used to say about leaving the EU. Do Tories really want to double down on uncertainty?       

The times call for experience, pragmatism and a steady hand. Only Theresa May can provide that, and that is why we endorse her to be the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.