Alex Deane is a Square Mile Common Councilman and Head of Public Affairs at Weber Shandwick
One of the big decisions facing David Cameron this year is who to send to Brussels in Baroness Ashton’s place as the UK’s Commissioner (presuming, as I do, that he won’t renew the Labour appointee!). Speculating on what is to come never gets you much credit – the odds are that you’ll be wrong, after all – but accepting the fact that I’ll probably have egg on my face, here are my views on the likely runners and riders:
Peter Lilley – 10 to 1
The most likely choice. Popular in the Parliamentary party and the grassroots. Credibly Eurosceptic but not fringe. Heavyweight. Has a safe seat, so there’s no real risk of defeat for the Conservatives in the by-election his appointment would cause. Now a senior MP, his career at Westminster has run its course and this would be a crowning end to it. Would be taken seriously in the Commission. Good candidate for one of the “big” jobs that the UK always craves and expects.
Andrew Mitchell – 15 to 1
The old favourite, but the odds have got a bit worse over time. Appointing him certainly “deals” with the still-unresolved question of what to do with him post-Plebgate vindication. Again, it wouldn’t cause a problematic by-election as Sutton Coldfield is rock-solid for the Tories. But as time’s gone on, the pressure to find him a place has lessened somewhat – perhaps to the leadership’s relief. Still, it remains likely that he will be found a home in Government at the next re-shuffle –and in those circumstances it’s rather uncertain that this ambitious man would accept a move to an EU role which might seem sideways from his old position rather than upwards.
Francis Maude – 25 to 1
A trusted government fixer – a true insider, presently occupying the same (physical) office once used by his father. Unlikely to make major further steps up the Westminster ladder. Would certainly be credible as someone with the ear of the PM. In a Parliament long on talk and short on action, this “doer” may be too vital to government to release – and would almost certainly feel further from power if moved than he is now.
Cheryl Gillan – 25 to 1
Rather publicly put out to be moved out of the Wales brief, this could be a nice consolation prize for Cheryl Gillan – and, particularly facing strong accusations of not “doing enough” for women in Westminster, David Cameron might be well advised to appoint a woman to this high profile position. Her parliamentary career is only likely to be extended if she became the next Public Accounts Committee Chair, so she could be tempted in to the EU job. Appointed last year to Council of Europe, this may be a logical stepping stone. She has a safe seat, too.
Michael Fallon – 30 to 1
One of the stars of this Parliament. A real heavyweight, but like Maude he is an essential cog of the Cameron machine. The kind of toughie we would like to send to Europe if we could afford to do without him at home. Would not regard this as a promotion. Still has ambitions here at home.
David Willetts – 45 to 1
A regular on the European scene, Willetts is certainly a credible potential appointee, both at home and abroad. Once rather more prominent than he is now, this diligent man has enjoyed rather less prominence in the Coalition government than many might have expected, and this move would regenerate a slightly stuttering progression for him in modern times, placing him in a role which would demand mastery of the kind of structures and systems at which he excels. Perhaps, despite this, the Government can’t afford to lose its brightest Minister.
Baroness Warsi – 50 to 1
Warsi knows that she’s relatively unpopular in the party and is not seen as particularly effective: she will realise that her making any big splashes in domestic politics is unlikely, so Warsi might be persuadable. Cameron would have to decide if the optics of ‘promoting’ a Muslim woman to an EU job helps him, or if the loss of the same from Westminster harms him. And obviously, appointing anyone from the Lords has the attraction of not causing a by-election.
David Davis – 100 to 1
This Parliamentary warhorse has been a Europe Minister in the past so it’s not an entirely incredible proposition. He’s a heavyweight and it would please the Eurosceptic grassroots. And it gets him out of the UK, which the leadership would love. But Cameron’s not given him anything so far and that’s unlikely to change.
Anne McIntosh – 100 to 1
Another Tory woman spurned, even having been deselected by her Association – although she may stay put and fight in 2015 as an independent in Thirsk and Malton. That said, with a bit more distance from it, and realising the mountain to climb if she’s to win a solidly safe Tory seat, McIntosh might just be tempted to throw in the towel and move into an EU role.
John Major – 200 to 1
That rare thing, a (relatively) pro-European Tory. He would be welcomed by the Commission and as a former Prime Minister his appointment would be the deployment of a real statesmanlike figure of national prominence in the tradition followed by other, more pro-project Member States. After a long period of gracious absence from the scene so as to avoid scotching the work of his successors, he has begun taking more positions on policy questions in public of late, too. But the old PM has indicated no desire for any new role, and the Tory Party in its current form wants a more Eurosceptic figure.