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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Bob Neill MP: Forget the fresh faces and the populists, Michael Gove should be PM

4 min read

Chair of Parliament’s Justice Committee Bob Neill MP writes: "Michael Gove's ability to adapt to whichever job he is tasked with and, crucially, then to deliver on it, is a major strength, and one we need now in solving that most complex of conundrums – Brexit".

In the next few weeks, members of the Conservative Party will, for the first time, vote to choose not just a new Leader but also a new Prime Minister for our country. That is a heavy responsibility.

Whoever succeeds faces a Herculean task, not just in resolving the most significant decision that our nation has made in more than a half a century, but also in bringing together a party and country which has been deeply divided by the referendum and an unprecedented level of cynicism and distrust in politics as a whole. It is no exaggeration to say that the decisions that individual makes, some in their very first days in office, will alter the course of history.

They need to have the experience of government to be able to hit the ground running. Now is not the time to take a punt on a fresh face (however appealing that risk might be), nor should we countenance flirting with a populism that tries to out Farage Farage. Instead, what we need is someone with the passion to take the fight to our opponents on the left, and to expose both the shallowness of Labour and the divisiveness of nationalism.

That must be someone who can reach out, bridge the divide, and govern for the sensible majority – which I believe does still exist. More than anything, we need someone who has a proven track record of delivering.

For me, the candidate that best fits that bill is Michael Gove. Whether at the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice, or now, as Environment Secretary, no matter how hard the brief, Michael gets things done.

In 2010, our education system was in need of a shake-up. Difficult, sometimes unpopular, decisions had to be made, but the facts speak for themselves: we now have 1.9 million more children in good and outstanding schools. Michael had the vision, as well as the dogged determination, to do what he knew to be right. 

As Justice Secretary, he swiftly got to grips with a complex role, setting out a bold agenda that for the first time in living memory properly recognised prison reform for the great social cause it is. As Chair of Parliament’s justice committee, I was impressed by his ability both to drive the Department forward from day one whilst quickly earning the respect of the judiciary and legal sector, who take it from me, don’t suffer fools gladly. The disappointment with which his premature departure from the role was met stands testament to the impression he made during his short time as Lord Chancellor.

And now at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he has become a one-man policy machine, tackling plastic waste, strengthening animal welfare, and protecting our natural environment.

Michael’s ability to adapt to whichever job he is tasked with and, crucially, then to deliver on it, is a major strength, and one we need now in solving that most complex of conundrums – Brexit.

That is, of course, an issue upon which we disagreed during the referendum, but I firmly believe that his political outlook, which combines passion with pragmatism, is one that can deliver the referendum outcome in a sensible way, protecting businesses and jobs, and unifying the Conservative Party, as well as the country. That he has already promised to guarantee EU nationals’ rights and waive the fee for British citizenship demonstrates an internationalism, not to mention sense for basic fairness, that has, to be frank, been sadly lacking in our debate thus far.

The stakes are too high to get this wrong. We now need to drive forward with ambition, espousing an open, pro-business, green and socially liberal agenda that reignites Britain, pulls the country together, and allows us to step forward with confidence and our head held high. Michael Gove is the person who can do that. He is ready to lead.

Bob Neill is the Justice Committee Chair and Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst

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