The Tories should look to the military for the next cohort of leadership contenders

Gavin Houlgate
What does this new military class of Conservative MPs have to offer? (Source: Getty)

The Prime Minister is facing one of her toughest tests over her decision to authorise the Syria air strikes last Friday.

While the polls suggest she still leads Jeremy Corbyn, her parliamentary vulnerability at this key time has reminded many of the party’s disastrous 2017 election, and raised the question of what happens next.

If Theresa May decides not to stand in the next election, whenever that may be, some of the strongest contenders for the future leader of the Conservative party lie among the talented group of men and women with successful military careers behind them who’ve decided to make politics their next mission.

Read more: Labour MPs back government over Syria action

There are now 44 Tory MPs with military backgrounds, according to the all-party armed forces group.

They include deputy chairman James Cleverly, foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, former commando and Plymouth Moor View MP Johnny Mercer, international development secretary Penny Mordaunt, and Wells MP James Heappey.

They are currently making their presence felt across the party, working outside their immediate briefs and engaging strongly in public meetings and on social media.

Mercer has been working to improve the fortunes of service veterans and those with severe injuries or mental health problems, while Heappey has taken his interest in a cleaner environment to become a leading authority on post-Brexit energy issues.

For many, they are a welcome change from the class of career politicians who move from university into roles as ministerial advisers before being offered a safe seat – without ever having worked outside the Westminster bubble.

When the MPs’ expenses scandal broke, the political class stood accused of being remote and out of touch, with little idea of the struggles other people faced.

That’s not a charge that can levelled easily at the current crop of former military MPs. They often have a nose for looming trouble.

Take the outrage over the Windrush Generation families, some of whom are facing deportation over their immigration status decades after coming to the UK legally. While the Home Office has up until now seemed indifferent to their plight, it looks as though interventions from Cleverly, Tugendhat and Mercer have finally awoken the government to the enormous injustices being dealt out to this generation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these MPs have also been most vocal and supportive over the Prime Minister’s stance on Syria. With foreign policy set to be increasingly high on the agenda in the immediate future, no one can doubt their credentials.

There is a strong tradition of politicians with a military background. From Winston Churchill until 1979, every Prime Minister except Alec Douglas-Home (because of illness) and Harold Wilson (a wartime civil servant) had served in the military in either the First or Second World Wars. So had hundreds of MPs, including notably Labour’s Denis Healey and James Callaghan.

So what does this new military class of Conservative MPs have to offer? Military experience is about a laser focus on getting things done, teamwork, leadership, listening skills, combined with authenticity, a sense of duty, and dedication. All qualities that many would like to see in their next Prime Minister.

Read more: Legal advice sought by Labour suggests Syrian air strikes were illegal

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