Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones has answered questions from the Harrogate Advertiser series of newspapers regarding the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
HA: What are you looking for in the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister?
AJ: The leader of any political party – in fact the leader of any organisation – needs certain qualities. They should be able to listen to all views and, when they have done so, command with authority as they set a course of action and then follow through to deliver the policy. That position of command and respect is earned through honesty, application and ability.
There is quite a spread of candidates and many possess some or all of these traits.
HA: What does Britain as a nation need most from a good new PM?
AJ: We face challenging times so we need a Prime Minister who is strong and with proven economic ability and business credibility. In the field of foreign affairs we need someone already known and respected on the international stage to keep the pressure on Russia to quit Ukraine. The country needs someone who is consistent and transparent to reinvigorate trust in politics.
HA: Should the next PM do more about the cost of living crisis and, if so, in which sort of areas/sectors would you like to see the new PM make policy on?
AJ: The cost of living crisis has been brought about by a range of factors but the most noticeable impact in our everyday lives is inflation in everyday goods. Inflation is caused by an excess of demand over supply, and it was building up in the system. The economic aftermath of the pandemic was already causing big problems, but that has been tipped into a crisis by the invasion of Ukraine. We can see that with oil, gas and grain prices.
So the new Prime Minister needs to look at those structural imbalances in our economy that make us susceptible to inflation. That means addressing our dependence on fossil fuels and boosting the productivity and capacity of the economy.
While addressing these long-term structural problems he or she needs to protect those most affected by rapidly rising prices. This may be through the benefits system, through increasing the living wage, through education in how to lower personal and household costs or through a variety of other means.
Increases in prices affect us all every day. Even if our own circumstances are fortunate we all know someone – friends, children and grandchildren – who is affected. Reducing inflation is the key to getting domestic finances on a stable footing.
HA: How important are standards and integrity in the Conservative Party’s choice of PM?
AJ: Standards and integrity must be central in public life whether you are a councillor, a Member of Parliament or a Prime Minister. I am by no means suggesting that one should not enter public life if you have received a parking ticket or are a multiple divorcee or maybe smoked pot at university. I am not seeking some sort of puritanical approach. Most have lives prior to entering politics, including young lives, and we need people with a variety of experiences.
But while I have been an MP numerous politicians from all parties have been convicted of serious offences – fraud, blackmail, perverting the cause of justice etc – and there are a queue of complaints with parliament’s standards body.
There is a major problem to solve so I want to see the new Prime Minister lead a cross-party initiative on how to make our political system better. This should include candidate selection.
HA: How important is that there are personal standards and integrity in the way candidates are campaigning?
AJ: I am backing Rishi Sunak and he has told his supporters that he wants to promote his own candidacy in a positive way. He does not want to run down the other candidates. When it comes to it we are all colleagues and need to respect each other’s positions and row in behind whoever the new leader is allowing them to set their agenda.
A respectful campaign and a positive campaign will show MPs at their best. I know colleagues aspire to this. Now we just need to live that aspiration.
In backing Rishi I am aware that he received a fine for breach of COVID regulations. For most people that was a surprise as he turned up at Number 10 for a meeting and walked into the Cabinet room as the Prime Minister was being present with a cake. Once he received the fine he paid it.
There was no dissembling, no denial and no appeal even though many thought it was harsh. He accepted the ruling. I think people understand the difference between that and the many months of changing claims that preceded the Prime Minister’s fine.
HA: Is it better to truncate the leadership election process to make it – and the period of interim government – as short as possible or should the process be allowed to spin out to the autumn with the full membership involved?
AJ: The 1922 committee – the representative committee of Conservative backbenchers – has set a date for the end of the contest as 5 September. That gives MPs the chance to choose two candidates to put to the Conservative Party membership over the summer and for those two people to lay out their stall to the public too. I think that timetable recognises the need for a relatively quick succession without being hasty.