OPINION - The Standard View: A brisk leadership election would be best

 (David Simonds)
(David Simonds)

THE candidates are already off, and the field crowded with would-be prime ministers, declared and undeclared. The cost-of-living crisis, the bleak outlook for growth, the febrile international situation, the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol ... these are urgent matters that cannot be left on hold. In the interests of the country, the Conservative Party will need to set a brisk, but realistic, programme for the election of a party leader.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Treasurer of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, has said a dozen MPs may enter the leadership race. He suggests that the aim will be to whittle down the list of candidates to two through a series of votes by Tory MPs before the Commons rises on Thursday, July 21. That tight timetable is attractive.

The 1922 Committee is revising the rules for the leadership election next week. It must allow for a realistic debate between the two candidates without the process dragging on for months. The worst outcome would be the situation that preceded Theresa May’s coronation as Prime Minister, after her opponent, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the race. That meant Mrs May was not a known quantity when she became Prime Minister. The chaos that characterised that contest must not happen again.

As for the candidates to succeed Boris Johnson, this newspaper would ask two things. One is that they are honest with the country and the party about the condition of the economy, including the extent of national debt and what that allows for when it comes to populist measures such as increased public spending and tax cuts.

The other is that the next Prime Minister should be a friend to London. This newspaper welcomes the levelling up agenda in lifting the condition of deprived parts of the UK; what we dispute is that this should be at the expense of the capital and the South East, the areas that actually generate much of the wealth that the programme requires.

We need an end to the war on London which has seen the public transport budget constrained and TfL left with insufficient funding for long-term investment. We need, in short, a constructive relationship with central government.

And the country as a whole needs stability. We have had an excess of excitement over recent days and weeks. Once a new Prime Minister is elected, a lengthy period of consolidation and calm would come as a welcome relief.

Abe assassinated

MANY pundits have spoken about recent events in terms of tragedy and civil war. But in Japan, the assassination this week of the former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, really is a tragedy. It was a terrible, unprovoked attack on a man who was engaged in the routine business of election politics, going on the stump addressing the electorate on behalf of a candidate for the upper house in the historic former capital of Japan, Nara.

Japan is not the United States. Gun violence is exceptionally rare; political violence in modern times is rare. Gun ownership is tightly controlled. This attack is appalling in itself and would be doubly sad if it meant the end of a state of affairs where politicians could be close to the electorate. Mr Abe was a good friend to Britain when

he was prime minister; we extend our sympathy to the people of Japan.