ConHome Diary: Why the PM Needs Another PPS (or Two) & When Will The Speaker Go?
19 May 2017 at 13:00
If there is a Conservative landslide of anything like the scale most pundits seem to expect I think the Prime Minister will need to think very carefully about her relationship with Tory backbenchers. Dealing with 390 or 400 MPs is very different to dealing with 330. May I make a suggestion? Instead of appointing only one PPS, Theresa May should appoint two, or even three. David Cameron sometimes had two, and Theresa May needs to do the same. George Hollingbery has done the job up to now, but he will quite reasonably expect a junior ministerial job after serving her for several years. If I were the PM, I’d appoint a grey beard from the ’97 or ’01 intake, another from the 2015 intake and maybe in the autumn one from the 2017 intake. It will be very important for her to keep her new MPs onside and it will be a very difficult task. There are enough discontents in the 2010 and 2015 intakes who believe their talents have so far been overlooked. After a couple of years, there will be another 40 or 50 from the new intake who will wonder why the Prime Minister isn’t recognising them.
A second idea would be to recreate the Backbench committees that the party ran in the 70s, 80s and 90s. There was one shadowing each government department, and they were an opportunity for MPs to shine in their specialist policy areas by becoming an officer of a particular group. They were abandoned after 1997 for the simple reason that there weren’t enough MPs to populate them. That won’t be a problem after 8 June.
Best quote of the campaign so far came from YouGov’s Joe Twyman, talking about party manifestos: “You might like the sound of some of the things on the menu, but if you don’t like the look of the restaurant, you’ll probably eat elsewhere.”
Yesterday I was due to have lunch at the House of Commons, but the election put paid to that. The occasion was/is the 90th birthday of a friend of mine, Audrey Barker, who was Conservative Agent in Norwich North for the 1987 general election, when I was the campaign manager. Audrey was a real ‘old school’ party agent and didn’t suffer fools (or politicians) gladly. She really did regard the candidate as a legal necessity and didn’t think twice about telling anyone exactly what she thought of them. In the end Audrey’s son entertained us to lunch as the Royal Overseas League Club on Piccadilly – more commonly known as the ‘in and ‘out. I still want to take her for lunch at the House of Commons, though. She’s now a constituent of Chukka Umunna, so I’d like to introduce her to him. Assuming he manages to retain his seat, of course…
Best headline of the week is from The Economist: “Labour’s Economic Programme: Old McDonnell has plan. He eyes IOUs.”
So why haven’t the LibDems made any sort of breakthrough in the polls since Theresa May called the election in mid April? A new YouGov poll this week might have the explanation. It showed that the LibDem policy of appealing to the 48% has fallen at the first hurdle. It seems the 48% is now 22%. Apparently only 22% of Britons believe the government should do a reverse ferret and stay in the EU and go against the June 2016 referendum result. 68% of us think the government should embrace Brexit and just get on with it. It appears that 23% of British people, who originally voted Remain now think the government should respect the referendum result and get on with Brexit. This goes some way to explaining why the LibDem vote share hasn’t moved at all, even in places where the LibDems are expected to win seats. In the South West they’ve gone up from 15% to 16% since May 2015. Meanwhile the Tories have gone from 47% to 52%. Even Labour have risen by 4% there. In London they’ve gone from 8% to 14% but will this really be enough to win back the seats the unexpectedly lost in 2015? It was reported in one of the Sunday papers that canvassers in Kingston & Surbiton, which the Tories won from the senior LibDem Ed Davey in 2015, are having great difficulty identifying and Tory Remain voters who are intending to give their votes to the LibDems. Without them, the LibDems can rightly fear hearing the expression “Conservative Hold” on election night. They may well lose Carshalton & Wallington too.
Last week when I interviewed Michael Gove I asked him if he’d accept a Cabinet job if Theresa May wins the election. Without hesitation, he looked me in the eye and said “yes”. He then laughed it off and said it was very unlikely to happen, as you’d expect him to, but I did think to myself, ‘hmmm, I wonder’. Since then he’s been used by CCHQ as a party spokesman more than once, and again yesterday he popped up speaking for the party in one or two morning interviews. When she sacked him, Theresa May apparently told Gove he’d have to earn his passage back. Since then he has been unfalteringly loyal and I suppose I would be less surprised than most if that passage back turned into a cabinet post in June 9th. The question is, which one? I’ll speculate on a reshuffle next week or the week after, but personally I’d love to see him back at either one of his previous cabinets posts. He understood what needed to be done on prison reform and it would be nice if he could see it through. Or, how about him going to Health! Can you imagine the faces on the left if that happened? It’s what Sir Humphrey might call a ‘courageous’ appointment…
I wonder if anyone else has wondered, like me, what happens to Mr Speaker Bercow in the event of a landslide victory. It’s true that he hasn’t annoyed the Tories quite as much since Theresa May become prime minister, but there is still a lot of anti feeling on the Tory benches, even if Sir Simon Burns is no longer there to tweak his tail. In the event of a landslide we have to assume that Lindsay Hoyle would be swallowed up in the Tory tsunami and wouldn’t be available to succeed Bercow, whenever that might be. I imagine Eleanor Laing would fancy the job, given that she is next in line in seniority, but I suspect she might face a very strong challenge from Jacob Rees-Mogg. He’s quite popular on the opposition benches and one can only imagine the delights we’d have in store. I’m sure Jess Phillips would happily be his cheerleader in chief and whip Labour MPs into line. There is a feeling that Theresa May would not be happy to support a Speaker putsch, but the price for that might well be for John Bercow to make clear he will depart within two years.