It’s 11pm, and the ConservativeHome editor of the day is about to turn in. Ping! What’s that in the inbox? Why, none other than an e-mail from Dominic Raab, reminding the site not to miss his oped tomorrow in the Brute about the iniquities of the ECHR. The slow watches of the night pass and turn to morning. It’s 5am, and the editor of the day is about to log on. Ping! No need to guess. At this hour, it can only be Raab. Why, yes, it’s another e-mail, suggesting that the site might want to clock his piece in the Beast about how public spending could be cut. Noon. Zap! It’s a text about a possible ConHome article. The killers of a dissident Russian lawyer must be brought to justice. No need to guess who has sent it.
The story of the Esher and Walton MP, who writes in the Daily Mail this morning about his plan to deport more foreign criminals, is an instructive one, because it says a lot about how the Commons is changing. I first met Raab when he was David Davis’s Chief of Staff, and the latter was Shadow Home Secretary. He faced a formidable obstacle in becoming a Conservative MP himself, at least as far as some party members would have been concerned – namely, that he used to work at the Foreign Office. He duly surmounted this hurdle, and entered the Commons in 2010. Raab is bright, energetic and purposeful. But he is far from unique in being so. The scene seemed to be set for him to vanish into government. Indeed, he was offered a job in the Whips’ Office at the start of Andrew Mitchell’s brief term there.
Raab turned it down, which says something about the status of the whips at the time, something about the changing Commons – and something about him. Like Douglas Carswell, Zac Goldsmith, Sarah Wollaston and an increasing number of Government backbenchers, he has seen his vocation to date as being to pursue causes important to him. None the less, it would be wrong to categorise him as a rebel: his voting record is loyalist. But he is more than capable of making a stand about abolishing government departments and cutting spending, reducing the 40p rate, pursuing the murderers of Sergei Magnitsky, or (as this morning), arguing that MPs should stop “killers, rapists and drug dealers running rings round our border controls”, as part of his quest to reform human rights laws.
Raab has the strategic eye and stamina of the karate black belt that he (reportedly) is. His campaigning style is less confrontational than Davis’s, but he has learned a lot from him – in particular, how to form alliances across the Commons. He has got five former Labour Ministers, including David Blunkett, signed up to his amendment to the Bill, and this will be giving the Government business managers a headache. Labour won’t vote for Nigel Mills’s amendment to re-impose transitional controls on the entry of Romanians and Bulgarians to Britain, but they might just back Raab’s. And Tory MPs with an eye to legalities will be reassured by the fact that, as a lawyer with a background in human rights, the Esher MP knows what he’s talking about. Furthermore, the Home Office’s objections to the amendment are not altogether clear.
Harry Phibbs made an argument for Raab’s amendment on this site last weekend, and there is little to add to the case that he set out. As the latter writes, “the single biggest injustice thrown up by our skewed human rights laws is the fiasco of hundreds of nasty criminals, jailed for their crimes, claiming spurious family and social ties to trump the public interest in deporting them”. Raab is shrewd to focus on the abuses of the European Court: its insistence on votes-for-prisoners stirs real public anger and has a sharp cut-through to voters. My best guess is that Raab will end up on the front bench sooner or later, but will mind less than most politicians if that doesn’t happen. At any rate, those campaigning e-mails and texts and articles are set to continue.