By Paul Goodman
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When David Davis was Shadow Home Secretary, his first Chief of Staff was Iain Dale. Iain was succeeded by a young man who looked somehow both physically fit and permanently exhausted. However early or late I visited the office (not often before 8am, not often after 9pm), this dark-haired, pale-faced, resolute-chinned figure was at his station, wrestling with the accumulated weight of texts, e-mails, phone calls, TV reports and Shadow Ministerial demands.
"Yes," Davis mused, when I asked who the newcomer was. "Dominic Raab. On the one hand, he worked for the Foreign Office. On the other hand, he has a black belt in karate." The Shadow Home Secretary then cackled something halfway between a bark and a laugh. "Not an unsuitable addition to the team, don't you think?" The man who I first met as a battling functionary last night scooped the Spectator's Newcomer of the Year award.
The judges are technically incorrect – Raab was a newcomer to the Commons in 2010, so his arrival preceded last year's awards – but they are intuitively right: the MP for Esher has had an impressive year, starring in the Commons debate over votes for prisoners (he wound up the debate), co-authoring "After the Coalition" with four other Conservative MPs, scrapping with Theresa May over the Equality Act, championing tougher strike laws and writing everywhere.
I wasn't one of the judges, and don't know their rationale. But I can think of three reasons for handing Raab the award. First, he knows what he's talking about when it comes to foreign policy, human rights and civil liberties: expertise helps. Second, he's not afraid to strike – i.e: vote against the Government – but is unwilling to wound: in other words, he doesn't oppose for the sake of it. Finally, he is superhumanly productive, even by the standard of the busy new intake.
I explained recently why only three male Tory backbenchers are likely to become Ministers at the next reshuffle. Tim named Raab as one of the few new MPs who should fill any vacancy. But his award is best viewed as reflecting a change we've both written about – the fightback of the legislature against the executive. Expert, brave, independent-minded backbenchers are a big part of the Commons' future (I hope).
Other Conservative award winners were:
- Minister of the Year: Michael Gove – "for the success of his school reform agenda and his recovery from the travails of last year".
- Backbencher of the Year: Adam Holloway – "for his principled decision to return to the back benches rather than vote against a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union".
- Andrew Tyrie was named Select Committee Chairman of the Year.
- John Whittingdale won Inquisitor of the Year. (A snub to Tom Watson?)
- Ken Clarke and Theresa May were named double act of the year (at least she wasn't forced to share the prize with Brodie Clark).
- Philip Davies won readers' representative of the year (a very good choice).
- Charles Walker won speech of the year for his four-word epic during the recent EU referendum debate. His speech was the exception that proves the rule to my claim that Commons speeches are being dumbed down.
Full list at The Spectator.