Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
So the race is on, and the stakes could not be higher. The prize may be the ultimate one, but the responsibility is daunting: to unite the party, to deliver Brexit, but more significantly – to defeat the twin perils of Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, to turn our backs on false populism, and demonstrate that the centre of British politics can once again deliver radical thinking and dramatic outcomes for our citizens. It’s been done before, by Macmillan, Thatcher and Cameron, and no less a re-invention is required now.
Against that background, I have decided that instead of endorsing a candidate I should set out seven tests for any future Prime Minister. These are chosen not from a factional or ideological standpoint, but from what I see doing the job of Mayor. I firmly believe they are in the interests of the people of the West Midlands.
They build on the strong economic legacy of the last nine years and on the value set of Theresa May. They also accelerate the radical thinking started by David Cameron towards devolution, whilst acknowledging the challenges of urban Britain which have persisted whilst government has been focused on Brexit.
So, the West Midlands needs a Prime Minister who –
1) Is restless in tackling the real issues which matter locally
That means providing well-paid jobs, quality housing, and skills for the fourth industrial revolution, as well as facing the challenges of climate change and the future of our town centres. These are the issues that voters care about. They want to see innovation and tangible outcomes.
A new leader will also support and recognise the crucial role of public services locally; the NHS, Councils and the police, and fund each of them appropriately.
The key will be leadership, both to galvanise original thinking and to deliver real change through government at all levels.
2) Understands the Power of Business as a Force for Good
The new Prime Minister will value responsible businesses which create jobs, drive the economy, and support wellbeing. That means giving them what they need: stability, infrastructure, skills, transport, and fair taxation. In particular, hard-working small businesses and entrepreneurs must know that they are valued. We must forge ahead with adopting new technology such as gigabit broadband, 5G and online public services.
3) Champions realism over Ideology
First and foremost, the new Prime Minister must deliver a Brexit which honours the referendum result whilst meeting the economic needs of the West Midlands. Then they have to win the argument that a modern, mixed economy can work for everyone, and thus deliver the aspirations of the millennial generation. They will be unfaltering in sharing their economic vision and ideas, and thus restore public confidence and hope. While protecting the market’s freedom to deliver, they must be willing to intervene where necessary, for example in the provision of affordable homes.
4) Recognises the Importance of the Regions
With three quarters of The UK’s GDP generated outside London, vibrant nations and regions are critical to our success. Cities, towns and rural communities need the support of Government to create a strong but more balanced economy, and a fairer society.
A firm pledge to support HS2, as part of a comprehensive investment in addressing historic underinvestment in regional infrastructure, is the most clear signal of a commitment to Britain beyond London. HS2 is the modern hallmark of a One Nation party, as it will literally unite the country and drive regeneration in the Midlands and the North. Turning back on this commitment would be unthinkable.
The new Prime Minister will also understand the critical importance of communities who have not shared in economic success, and be a passionate advocate of addressing the underlying issues of driving aspiration and opportunity.
5) Sees the Role All Our Communities Have to Play
Our new Prime Minister needs to be a visible champion of all faiths, ethnicities and under-represented groups. They must demonstrate that they believe in the unique power of communities to work together to create a harmonious country where mixing is a source of innovation and enrichment.
They must be brave and principled in addressing any injustices, as May pledged.
6) Reaches Beyond the Comfortable to Those Who Are Struggling
The new Prime Minister must truly believe that the ultimate test of any society is the way in which it supports the less fortunate.
For example, the British public know that homelessness and the use of foodbanks in the UK today is wrong. They want someone who understands, listens and has a serious plan to sort it out.
They will face up to social challenges: how do we, as a society, support those with mental health problems, and how do we respond to communities blighted by crime and substance abuse? However, all of this requires more than just warm words – there must be a concrete plan of action, with serious Government cash set aside to tackle such issues.
7) Lives life as an optimist
Finally, we need a Prime Minister who believes in Britain, the British people, and our role in the world as an example of liberal values and individual rights.
A new Prime Minister must bring a new lease of life to the country, and a new wave of optimism after the gruelling Brexit debates of the last few months. They must lead Britain as an outward-looking, internationalist country, that takes global responsibility naturally.
He or she must be a unionist, but with a respect for the differences between our nations and regions, cherishing what makes us proud locally, but as part of one United Kingdom.
For us in the West Midlands, this means grasping opportunities such as Coventry hosting the City of Culture in 2021, and Birmingham welcoming the Commonwealth Games in 2022. We need our Prime Minister to be a cheerleader around the world.
Above all else, the new Conservative leader must be someone who can win. We are at a historic moment for the party and the country. Our new leader will need to navigate the waters of Brexit negotiations, and fight Corbyn. But they also need to set out a powerful new domestic agenda which lifts up and inspires communities like ours in the West Midlands. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and I hope that MPs, members, and the country will make a good choice.