Tory leadership contender Stephen Crabb has launched his bid for the top job with a swipe at Boris Johnson’s public school background and his lack of a post-Brexit plan.
The Work and Pensions Secretary became the first to formally declare his candidacy to succeed David Cameron as he set out why he was a better choice than both the former Mayor of London and Home Secretary Theresa May.
In a jibe at Johnson’s famous line that he could be leader if the “rugby ball” came out of the scrum, Crabb said that his own working class Welsh roots taught him to grab opportunities rather than wait for them to land in his lap.
“I was brought up to understand that nothing gets handed to you on a plate,” Crabb said to a launch attended by fellow Cabinet ministers Sajid Javid, Jeremy Wright and several 2010 and 2015 intake Tory MPs.
“On the rainy rugby fields of West Wales I learnt that it’s not a question of just waiting for the ball to pop out from the back of the scrum. If you want it, you do what’s required.
“I was brought up to believe no-one was better than me and I was no better than anyone else. I was brought up to believe that no-one is a self-made man or woman – we are all shaped and formed by our families and communities.”
When asked in 2013 if he wanted to be PM, Johnson had said: “Obviously, if the ball came loose from the back of a scrum, which it won’t, it would be a great, great thing to have a crack at.”
Today, Crabb pitched himself as the ‘unity’ candidate and deliberately compared himself to John Major as the state-educated, working class Tory contender who will heal his party and the country after the EU referendum vote.
But the devout Christian had to swiftly face questions about his previous opposition to gay marriage, declaring that he had no problems with equal rights, regardless of “sexuality” and that the issue had now been “settled”.
Mr Crabb, who was educated in a comprehensive school and raised on a council estate, said: “I believe in a society where it should not matter where you were born, what kind of school you went to, what street you grew up on, or what your mum or dad did for a living."
That was seen as another veiled jibe at Boris Johnson's Eton background, while echoing Major's 'classless society' pitch.
The Cabinet minister rejected the idea that the next Tory leader ought to call a snap general election, stating that "the answer to the question of instability is not further instability".
In a clear signal that he would serve until a 2020 general election, he added there was "plenty of work to take us through to the end of a Parliament".
Crabb, who backed the Remain camp in the referendum, said that the Government now had to commit itself to implementing the Brexit vote as effectively as possible.
Asked if he would trigger 'Article 50', the legal instrument needed to formally start the UK's exit from the EU, Crabb suggested he would first get a proper plan in place.
He promised to set up an “advisory council” with the London Mayor and First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to guide the transition process.
Referring to demands for tighter immigration, he said "for us this is a red line". "Because one message that came through louder than any other in the vote last week is that the British people want to take control of immigration."
In his speech, Crabb said he was the best candidate to represent the "One Nation" Tory tradition to help all parts of society to get on in life.
In questions afterwards he said that his party has "got to get beyond this 'Boris-stop Boris' dichotomy and lead".
One MP supporter told HuffPost UK: "He shows you like someone and respect them at the same time. With Theresa and Boris it's seen as a choice between competence and charisma. But Stephen shows you can have both."
His campaign slogan 'A Plan For Unity And Opportunity' appeared aimed at Johnson's alleged lack of a post-Brexit plan, and May's perceived inability to unite the Leave and Remain wings of the party.
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