Health secretary Matt Hancock says 'Tories can bring us optimistic future' amid race to succeed May

NIcholas Cecil

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today laid out an “optimistic vision” for Britain with the Tories in the centre ground of politics as the race to succeed Theresa May gathered pace.

The 40-year-old Cabinet moderniser also warned against his party being lured by Nigel Farage’s success into adopting “populism that is not based on objective fact”.

Mr Hancock’s remarks came just hours after the Prime Minister had survived another attempt to oust her.

The executive of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs voted 9-7 yesterday against changing the leadership rules so another vote of confidence in Mrs May could be held soon rather than having to wait until December, a year after the last one was held.

However, committee chairman Sir Graham Brady said it would be “a surprising response” if the Prime Minister suggested she might stay on as late as December, having pledged to stand down after the first phase of Brexit, quitting the EU, is completed.

The Conservative Party is facing a drubbing in the European elections at the end of May after Mr Farage returned to frontline politics with the Brexit Party, which surveys show is due to come first.

“There is an important debate about how you tackle this rise of populism,” Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“I firmly believe that there is a big opportunity for a Conservative Party rooted in the centre ground of politics which has been abandoned by the Labour Party ... which can give us an optimistic vision to the future of the country where we deliver on the economy, on all the issues that matter to people.”

Pressed on whether the Tories should adopt an approach similar to Farage-style populism, he added: “We need to reject a populism that is not based on objective fact, on taking the country forward and actually delivering.”

The Conservatives were not a “party of protest that shouts from the outside” he added, stressing: “We are a party that at its best delivers for people.”

Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, fuelled leadership talks this week with a video calling for an “enterprise revolution”.