In a speech laced with military references, Tom Tugendhat argued on Tuesday that he should become the next prime minister because Britain needs a leader with “a renewed sense of mission”.
As the candidate currently sitting third in a field of eight, the former army officer made a 16-minute pitch that might not have matched the bombast of Boris Johnson but displayed responsibility and leadership.
A large part of Mr Tugendhat’s appeal is that he has managed to win over the various fractious wings of the Conservative Party, from the ardent Brexiteer Anne-Marie Trevelyan to the “One Nation” liberal Damian Green.
Ms Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, introduced him as the leader to see Britain “through the storm” and “unite country and party”.
In front of a ring of 20 MPs — which means Mr Tugendhat will at least get to the first round of voting — the politician argued that “we need leadership with a renewed sense of mission.”
Mr Tugendhat launched with a lavish spread of free smoothies, popcorn and oatmeal pots for the gathering.
Before politics, Mr Tugendhat had extensive military experience serving operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2005 and 2009, as well as being an aide to the head of the Army.
His speech was full of military references, frequently using the word “retreat” when describing the state of Britain and Mr Johnson’s government.
“We have retreated into the pettiness of a politics that is more about personality than principle,” he said. “We have retreated into division when we desperately need unity. When the moment demanded service, we delivered scandal.”
He vehemently emphasised: “I cannot accept retreat”.
As prime minister he would set out a 10-year plan for growth, including a 10 pence cut in fuel duty, reversing the 1.25 per cent National Insurance rise, but not necessarily, as other candidates have promised, slashing taxes.
“Tax cuts cannot be the only round in the magazine,” he said, in another military quip.
He would also introduce an “energy resilience plan” and build up Britain’s fuel reserves, as well as committing to clean energy, including nuclear.
“To ensure that the UK has dependable power produced at home or sourced from trusted allies”.
Despite having a keen interest in the Middle East, and as a fluent Arabic speaker, learnt in Yemen, Mr Tugendhat made little reference to foreign or defence policy. It is understood this will come in potential later speeches.
But Britain was “at a crossroads”, he said, where it was faced by “daunting challenges at home and abroad” which required “serious leadership”.
Mr Tugendhat has won the key support of Jake Berry, leader of the Northern Research Group of Red Wall Tory MPs, in part by attending a conference that Mr Johnson shirked.
He promised new technology institutes “across every major town and city” so that “every child has the chance for a world class technical education”.
Speaking throughout in front of a billboard that stated: “Tom — A Clean Start”, Mr Tugendhat finished to applause, saying: “I am ready to serve. I am ready to lead. We need a clean start.”