Yesterday’s Select Committee elections were a triumph for former Remainers, with Nicky Morgan sweeping through to win the Treasury Select Committee chairmanship. But there’s a flaw in that claim: Julian Lewis, who backed Leave last year, defeated Johnny Mercer in the tussle to lead the Defence Select Committee. So the older generation of MPs won out over the new, then. Except that Tom Tugendhat, who has been in the Commons for only two years, beat Crispin Blunt in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee election. Perhaps we should revert to our first assertion, then, and say that ex-Remainers won out – such as Robert Halfon, who today is the new Chairman of the Education Select Committee. But how is it meaningful, when he narrowly held off another former Remainer, Nick Boles?
In other words, treat with suspicion any reporting of the results which seeks to relate them to the age or views of the candidates. The decisive factor in these elections, as so often, was the personality of the candidates. None the less, a big point holds – namely, that with about 100 Conservative MPs ineligible to vote, since they are Government members, the view of opposition MPs can be decisive if they break for one Tory candidate. Most of these are Labour. They tend to look for someone who will cause high-quality trouble for Ministers, and whose views are not too far to the right, as they see it. Incumbency matters: Lewis chaired the Defence committee during the last Parliament; Neil Parish was re-elected to head up the Environment Select Committee. But it is not always decisive: Blunt was a sitting Chairman, and he was ousted.
Some Select Committee Chairmen showboat, grandstand and play to the gallery. Consider the case of Keith Vaz, the former Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who once called Russell Brand to give evidence during an inquiry into drug addiction and treatment. But most are serious people who have gained a new authority since being elected by their peers rather than selected by the whips. The narrowness of the Government’s majority also means that committee members will travel less when Parliament is sitting, which means more scrutiny for Ministers. Morgan will certainly want to put the Government’s negotiating plan for Brexit under a magnifying glass. Tugendhat will press to discover the effects of leaving on foreign policy.
Congratulations and commiserations as appropriate to all concerned. Finally, writing for this site did candidates no harm at all. Halfon and Morgan are both ConservativeHome columnists. They tell us that they will continue.
Results in full:
- Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Labour) – Rachel Reeves.
- Communities and Local Government (Labour) – Clive Betts.
- Defence (Conservative) – Julian Lewis.
- Education (Conservative) – Robert Halfon.
- Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Conservative) – Neil Parish.
- Foreign Affairs (Conservative) – Tom Tugendhat.
- Northern Ireland Affairs (Conservative) – Andrew Murrison.
- Science and Technology (Liberal Democrat) – Norman Lamb.
- Transport (Labour) – Lilian Greenwood.
- Treasury (Conservative) – Nicky Morgan.
- Backbench Business Committee (Opposition party) – Ian Mearns.