Get ready for days of contenders for the Conservative leadership talking about their sweeping visions and big plans for the future. The focus will inevitably be on what candidates want to start doing. I am more interested in what candidates will stop doing. My checklist falls into two buckets: principles and policy, and style of government.
First up, stop government by focus group, and dreaming up policies to win over one specific group of the electorate. This creates contradictory policies. Start by answering the question “what do we believe in and stand for?” Then apply those principles to a problem; then create the policy; then the message.
Stop the gradual shift to a bigger state. Covid lulled many into thinking that the government has all the answers. It doesn’t. We should be encouraging people to take more responsibility for their lives, and incentivising businesses to invest.
We should be giving more power to schools and hospitals, and thinking radically how we tackle big challenges like social care and net zero. As the OBR says, our finances are on an “unsustainable path”. Be honest about this.
Stop ducking the question “what kind of country do you want the UK to be after Brexit?” Some want to use Brexit to pull up the duvet of the state, and use our freedoms to protect ourselves from the cold wind of global competition.
Others want to throw off the state duvet, and become a global, free-trading, deregulating, low-tax nation. Six years after the referendum, it’s appalling we have not clearly answered this. So which is it – duvet on or off?
Stop fanning the flames of our relationship with Europe. Strive every sinew to solve the Northern Ireland issue by negotiation. We don’t want a trade war with Europe in the midst of an economic maelstrom. And we need to rebuild our integrity as a nation that stands by the treaties we signed.
Stop pretending that we can go for growth and tackle inflation at the same time. Getting inflation down must be our priority. Once we have the tiger by the tail, then turn to cutting taxes. And if we can cut taxes, the focus should be on supporting businesses – especially small businesses and the self-employed.
Stop treating seats in the “red wall” as fundamentally different from the rest of the country. Govern for the whole nation, and develop Conservative policies that will help people wherever they live. Levelling up should not be camouflaged for more state spending and intervention: it should be about helping people take control of their lives, find work and supporting businesses to create jobs.
Next, the style of government.
Stop defining Conservatives as Leavers or Remainers. The UK has left the EU. Pouring salt into the wound stops it from healing. Focus on the future. Build a broad team based on talent, not how people voted six years ago.
Stop chipping away at the rule of law, which protects our freedom, democracy and way of life. And stop trashing the conventions of Parliamentary democracy. These are the bedrock of our stability.
Stop the centralisation of power in Number Ten. Empower Cabinet ministers by sacking the legions of special advisers – especially in Number Ten. Scale back the Cabinet so it can properly debate issues.
Stop attacking the Civil Service. Yes, like any organisation, it can be improved. But incompetence and delay is more often than not thanks to weak ministers who have no clear strategy and are not up to the job. Constant criticism about the Civil Service saps moral at the very time we need Whitehall energised and committed.
Finally, stop being distracted by Twitter and the next day’s headlines. Set out a plan, stick to it, and deliver it.
We need a leader with a vision for the future based on clear principles; a coherent, credible plan to tackle the crisis we are in; and a talented, diverse team. That requires the next leader to press “stop”, and address the points above.
So who is the “stop” candidate?
Lord Bridges of Headley is a former minister in the department of exiting the European Union.