I wrote to the PM earlier this week on how I will honour these 2017 General Election pledges to the people of Chelsea & Fulham and vote against the Heathrow 3rd runway on Monday. pic.twitter.com/Mtad84N3Zx
— Greg Hands (@GregHands) June 21, 2018
It is a sad reflection on this Government’s track record when it comes to resignations that Greg Hands’ departure is seems by contrast a relatively benign development.
No looming scandal, no declarations about Brexit – just a straightforward disagreement on a matter of policy. Here are four points to note:
Hands may have surrendered a return to Cabinet
During David Cameron’s administration, Hands served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and attended Cabinet, before taking the terms offered him by Theresa May and stepping down to become Trade Minister.
Another who took a very similar course was Matt Hancock, who is now a Secretary of State. It seems likely that Hands was similarly somewhere fairly near the front of the queue for a return to the Cabinet when the opportunity arose.
Viewed in that light, his decision to resign his post may be a bigger step than his current rank initially suggests.
It puts the spotlight on Johnson
The former Mayor once promised to “lie down in front of the bulldozers” if Heathrow expansion was approved. Now it looks as if the best he will manage is to be indisposed when the Government tries to vote it through in Parliament.
Such a strategy will be much harder to get away with now that Hands has provided an example of anti-Heathrow conviction against which the Foreign Secretary’s own conduct can be measured.
What will it do to the balance of the Government?
The last time the Prime Minister had to fill a sudden vacancy in her government (which was a week ago…), we noted that in Edward Argar she made the cautious choice: a loyal ex-Remainer who isn’t causing any trouble.
Maintaining the Brexit balance of power in the Government is something May always has to factor in, and Hands occupied an interesting position as another ex-Remainer who was now working to deliver the result at Trade, one of the special post-Brexit departments.
Now the Prime Minister once again has to choose how to deploy the patronage of the payroll vote, and the parliamentary arithmetic remains on a knife-edge.
This could tee up a run for Mayor
In the wake of the general election result the Party’s London MPs all have good reason to be especially pro-active in defence of their seats, but this resignation nevertheless looks like going above and beyond the call of duty.
But whilst it may have done no favours for Hands’ Cabinet prospects, could it instead be intended as the foundations of a bid to be the Conservative candidate to challenge Sadiq Khan in 2020?
Not only will Hands have much more time to work on building his platform and profile from the back-benches, but his resignation can be presented as a high-profile demonstration of a commitment to London’s interests on a cut-through issue. There’s a reason Johnson made his promise about the bulldozers…