A Welshman at number 10?

Anthony Pickles says Stephen Crabb is the right person to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister.

In the closing days of the General Election campaign in 2015, Stephen Crabb, who had led the campaign across Wales was visiting the Engine House project in Merthyr Tydfil. There were no votes there, the project was run as a charity for young people to play sport. He spent an hour talking to young people and volunteers about what they were interested in. Why? Because they’d invited him and he wanted to listen. Driving him away, I was struck by his obvious passion for social justice and real welfare reform, unaware that he was later to become the new Welfare Secretary, and certainly not thinking that just one short year later he could become Prime Minister.

When David Cameron announced last week that he was standing down, I wondered whether Stephen would run, I hoped he would, and now that he is, I want him to win.

It doesn’t take me to set out the challenges the new Prime Minister faces. They are immense, they are wrought with difficulty and pitfalls. They will take somebody who has broad shoulders, a cool head and a considered mind to tackle them. Many commentators over the past few days have questioned whether Stephen – who let’s face it isn’t as well-known as others – has what it takes to face the in tray on the desk of Number 10 Downing Street on September 9th.

When David Cameron won the Conservative leadership election in 2005, he was the rank outsider. Very few in the party membership knew him and the parliamentary party saw him as a newcomer, but he won because the party took a chance and believed in his passion and the rest is history. Stephen is already in a stronger position with over a decade’s experience in parliament, a strong record as a cabinet minister, but more importantly the vision and the character to make a big impact in this leadership race.

I’m fortunate to know Stephen and to have worked with him closely. Almost everybody he meets is charmed by his easy going and friendly persona. He is interested in people and it’s obvious. This is important because he’s crossed party lines and built coalitions when he’s needed to. As a former whip, he’s learnt the skill of understanding his colleagues’ concerns and building support for tough ideas. Ruth Davidson, the formidably talented Leader of the Scottish Tories calls him her “political soulmate” and for good reason. They both see the UK as a positive force for good in the world and want to be the ones to bring about change. The bond between the two is important because it shows the Conservative Party as a unionist, pragmatic party of government.

His matter-of-factness and his understanding of others is refreshing and important. Let’s take his views on devolution. From an arch sceptic of Cardiff Bay, to the man who wanted income tax devolving; he understood that the terms of the debate had changed. That lack of stubbornness and willingness to understand the situation came from his home in Pembrokeshire where he listened to why people said they wanted more powers. He read the history books of his country and he entered a tough job in the Wales Office with a view of devolution that was different and an understanding of the importance of building a consensus. This story will be vitally important when one considers the current strain on the United Kingdom’s constitutional settlement.

Anthony Pickles is a former Chief of Staff for the Welsh Conservatives.

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