Yesterday evening, it was announced that Mims Davies will replace Tracey Crouch at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Jeremy Quin will be a Government Whip. (Very able, is Quin: watch him.) Nigel Adams will be a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office and an Assistant Government Whip. And Gareth Johnson will be be an Assistant Government Whip).
All of these appointments are from within the ranks of the Government – and all, bar Davies, are unpaid. That’s further evidence, were it needed, of how the Ministerial ranks are over the statutory maximum of 109 paid Ministers. When Henry Hill carried out a check under the Cameron Government, almost half the Conservative Parliamentary Party was on the payroll.
Theresa May has no disincentive to cut the proportion. Every new MP on it is a MP with a new obligation – namely, to vote, as a member of the Government, for its business. That will matter if it comes to the most crucial vote of all, both for this administration and for the country – namely, a “meaningful vote” on any Brexit deal, and the votes on legislation that would follow.
Downing Street thus has an incentive, as matters stand, to appoint MPs for voted for Brexit to the payroll: the more there are on it, the more will be obliged to support in the lobbies any deal that she agrees in Brussels. Number Ten will be mindful that Party Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen are in a similar position.
It lost pro-Brexit Ministers, PPS’s and CCHQ appointees last summer in the wake of Chequers – David Davis, Boris Johnson, Steve Baker, Chris Green, Conor Burns, Maria Caulfield, Ben Bradley, Robert Courts, Scott Mann. (Plus, separately, a pro-Remain Minister: Guto Bebb, over concessions to the ERG, plus Phillip Lee) So it has ground to make up.
Of the four new appointments, three were on our EU referendum list as supporting Brexit – Davies, Adams and Johnson, a former PPS. All were previously on the payroll – so to speak – and thus already under an obligation to support the Government. But the first and last moves are unarguably promotions, and will bind in those concerned more deeply.
Meanwhile, the Government has quietly been appointing more trade emissaries during the last few months. Though these are not on the payroll, they are also under an obligation to the Prime Minister. Downing Street has no incentive to publish the appointments, but it is impossible to miss that some pro-Leave MPs have been among them.
So we have Pauline Latham as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kenya and Andrew Rossindell as the equivalent to Tanzania. Back in the days of New Labour, Alistair Campbell had a crude but effective term for Conservatives drawn into its Big Tent – “Operation Gobble”. Number Ten might not put it the same way, but it will certainly be looking for the same effect.