We want backbenchers who speak their minds, who level with the voters, who don’t try to spin us – who are authentic, and can depart from the front bench line if they disagree with it.
Or do we?
Consider the case of Kwasi Kwarteng who, the Independent informed us yesterday, was “secretly recorded” saying the following at a meeting hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs:
“We have always been very clear that deficit reduction is absolutely important and if you are going to reduce the deficit then everything should be put on the table and considered equally,” Mr Kwarteng told a meeting of the right-wing think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. “It’s common knowledge that there has been a consensus on international aid… that we should ring-fence that, [and] on health spending. I think that consensus will be under a lot of strain given the budget realities.” He added: “That will force change in the political discussion.”
(Actually, goodness knows why the Independent needed a secret recording of anything since, as the IEA points out, the meeting was an on the record briefing to which the whole lobby was invited. But I digress.)
The main point is this. You may believe that NHS spending should be ringfenced during the next Parliament or you may not. Kwarteng – not being a member of the Conservative front bench – is free to believe either and, what’s more, to say what he thinks.
“His comments will embarrass the Conservatives ahead of Wednesday’s Autumn Statement by George Osborne,” the Independent said. Maybe. But should backbenchers really be on-message clones – or risk having their views reported when they stray off it?
In one sense, the incident is a nothing: it has had no consequences; few will have noticed it even happened. But in another, it says much about the way Westminster works now.
Would-be politicians are deciding that the game’s not worth the candle: as Mark Wallace reports this morning, applications for safe seats are down. Politics needs more Kwartengs, not fewer (have a look at him not backing off in the interview above. It risks not getting them.