Jesse’s Hereford Times column: My leadership manifesto

I decided last week, after wide consultation, not to throw my Stetson into the ring of the Conservative leadership contest.

I decided last week, after wide consultation, not to throw my Stetson into the ring of the Conservative leadership contest.

I had some unexpected and wonderful public endorsements. But I also got 600 or so emails, calls and texts from constituents. Two of them encouraged me to engage in novel arts of physical contortionism.

Virtually every other one urged me for or against standing, with passion and concern for our country and the state of politics.

So here is part of my manifesto: five policy ideas to pull this country together. First is a national infrastructure fund, which could finance a significant expansion of high-quality, low-emission local housing. Since good design often doesn’t cost a lot more, why not make it beautiful as well?

Such a fund could finance a national full-fibre broadband rollout. And it could finance significant new investment in sustainable transport, cycling and walking, a new low-cost domestic light rail industry and expanding charging networks for electric vehicles. Add in a five-year, local roads-funding settlement and you have, secondly, a package to raise air quality, support high streets, improve health and combat obesity.

Third, we need a far more proactive approach to rural areas and regions left behind. Investment works well when it builds value alongside infrastructure and skills that already exist. This means vigorous but tailored regional investment, with better apprenticeships and technical education.

Our New Model in Technology & Engineering university project makes the point perfectly. It is designed to provide radical innovation, giving young people access to the best global models. But it operates within a defence and security arc that includes QinetiQ in Malvern and GCHQ in Cheltenham, amid a wider ecology of small, specialist companies.

Fourth is a renewed emphasis on culture and the arts. This points in two directions: towards a local sense of what makes each place special and the power of the arts, and music in particular, to kindle passions; and towards greater international "soft power" and the creative industries of tomorrow.

Last, place-making must embrace the entire UK. That means re-establishing the executive in Northern Ireland, UK investment in Scotland and Wales and politicians willing to make the case for the Union, from which “infinite good has been derived to this country” in the words of Adam Smith.

It's a national agenda. But so much of it has been formed by our own local experience and local needs in glorious Herefordshire.