This week we have a new prime minister and whatever we may have campaigned, voted or wished for as Conservatives and non-Conservatives, we wish her well.
As prime minister of the United Kingdom she will take profoundly-important decisions which affect all of us and while it will be for the country to decide her future at the next election, until then we must all hope she takes wise decisions in the face of the extraordinary challenges we face.
I tried to become prime minister twice – and am now firmly in the ranks of former future prime minsters (much to the delight of my family). But after nine years in the cabinet, including six in one of the most challenging roles in government, namely health secretary, what advice would I give to any new prime minister?
Firstly, it is important to ask yourself what do you want to be remembered for, not in tomorrow’s papers but in five or ten years’ time. Too much of government these days is run to feed the insatiable 24-hour news cycle.
But the prime ministers history remembers make bold, transformative changes which stand the test of time.
Margaret Thatcher gave Britain back its self-belief with a series of painful reforms – and changed our minds about enterprise and hard work in the process.
Liz Truss is right to prioritise economic growth – but needs now to do the detailed work that use our new Brexit freedoms to attract investment and high-skilled jobs to the UK.
Nigel Lawson did just that with the ‘Big Bang’ in the City of London (although Brexit wasn’t necessary in that case). But if we are to become the world’s next Silicon Valley, we will need detailed regulatory reform with an attention to detail which will probably bore the media.
But if she succeeds, Britain’s economy really will fly – and it will be one of the most important things she does.
Secondly, it is key to remember the electorate look forward not back.
The next election will not be about partygate or the pandemic but how the new government tackles the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine and a likely recession.
But when you are ‘getting things done’ people are making a judgement not just about your competence but your values. So all communication from a prime minister needs to talk about the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’ and the ‘what’.
Opponents of the Conservatives will try to paint every failure as a relating to having ‘the wrong values’ – so she needs to get on the front foot in making clear that is not the case as indeed it is not.
Finally, try to let your character emerge naturally. Gordon Brown is privately a very amusing man – but we never knew that when he was prime minister.
Liz Truss is engaging and fun. So she should do the job in a way that she can enjoy – so people see her real self, not any wooden stereotype. In Liz’s case if she does that they will like what they see.
I say this not, of course, because our new prime minister needs any of my advice. She has shown herself on many occasions to be well aware of the issues raised above.
Which is why – even though I personally voted for Rishi Sunak – I am optimistic she will rise to the gravity of the challenges we face with grit and determination.
Which, of course, is exactly what we need.