Leadership, like charisma, or beauty or wisdom, is difficult to define in the abstract. But easy to recognise in the real world. Leadership involves, but isn’t limited to, the ability to secure attention, to change perceptions, to listen to advice from wiser heads and then stick to a course when other men might falter.
There is a reason why Tony Blair became Labour’s leader when, for most of their careers, Gordon Brown would have seemed to be the favourite, both more cerebral and more congenial to his party’s grass roots. It is the same reason we chose Margaret Thatcher in 1975, when the safer choice would have been Whitelaw. Both Blair and Thatcher had that indefinable quality of natural authority, unassertive certainty and cool judgement which is the essence of leadership. And both led their parties rather than simply managing, or indulging, them. They took their parties into new territory, reading the changes in society in such a way as to dominate the agenda of their time.
The Conservative Party is fortunate in this leadership election in having a range of candidates who can make us feel good about our party. But there is one candidate, above all, who I know has the capacity to make people who’re not currently Tories look more warmly towards the Conservatives. David Cameron.
David has the characteristics of a natural leader. In his brief time as Shadow Education Secretary he has, along with George Osborne, provided the party with a new style of Opposition, less opportunistic, more principled and more focussed on the long term, which has won plaudits from sections of opinion we have lost, and need to win back, such as the Financial Times and the Economist.
David has brought a disciplined focus to our message on Education, presenting the Conservatives as the champions of rigour, parental priorities and better support for the most vulnerable, especially those with special needs. He has done all this while giving policy a warmer, more human and more accessible tone. The resut has been enthusiasm for his leadership on these issues from writers in the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday who have traditionally been hostile to our message.
The character of a Cameron leadership is uniquely well fitted to the way we do business in the modern world. He is open to argument at the beginning of any process but determined and dogged when it comes to execution. He persuades through dialogue rather than dictating from on high. He enjoys operating in a team and recognises loyalty is something you show, not something you demand. He is open, informal, relaxed. Which is why his TV and radio performances are so assured, persuasive and attractive to those not currently Conservative.
We are lucky that a broad policy consensus unites most of the leadership candidates, with a shared emphasis on the need for lower taxes as part of a coherent economic policy, public sector reform which uses market means to deliver socially just ends and moral leadership to help heal a fractured society.
But right of centre values can only be implemented by a party which shows it understands social change and can make people who aren’t traditional conservatives feel that voting for us would be not just personally rewarding, but publicly responsible. We need to show we’re good for them and good for their neighbour. That was George W. Bush’s approach in 2000. And that approach is something David Cameron doesn’t just understand, but has made the hallmark of his campaign. Which is why I believe he has the character, potential and ideas to be a transformative leader of our party.