Most general elections since the war have given one of the two main parties a majority in double figures. All of the Parliaments concerned have lasted roughly five or four years. The exception was that of 2015, which delivered David Cameron a majority of 12. Two years later, Theresa May sought and gained an election, and saw that majority eliminated.
The first point to make about the Conservative intake of 2017, which Henry Hill profiles on this site today, is thus about its unusual character. On the normal form of British general elections, it shouldn’t be there at all. Twenty-nine new Tory MPs could be forgiven for still being in shock. A year ago, none of them had been selected to contest the seats which they now hold. Suddenly, they have been propelled into the most momentous Parliament in modern times – that which will oversee our exit from the EU. It will be a bracing experience. The abnormal circumstances of the election and nature of this Commons may encourage this relatively small intake to stick together.
It is one more shaped by the Party’s leadership than any in history. A snap poll plus the selection rules combined to achieve what Mark Wallace described on this site as “a huge centralisation of power”. With no candidates in place when the election was called, the process of selection was bound to be frantic: as Mark wrote, “some associations were receiving their shortlists only hours before the selection meeting was due to take place”. Before the 2015 and 2010 elections, the Party leadership and CCHQ strove to achieve more diversity in candidate selection – or, rather, a certain sort of diversity, with more women and ethic minority candidates. This time round, the priority for Downing Street and CCHQ was less this objective than – to be plain – putting people that they favoured in place in safe seats. This wasn’t the main criterion everywhere: for example, the Isle of Wight was given a choice of people with a local connection. But it was so often enough for any accurate summary to make mention of it.
The consequence now that the smoke has cleared is fewer women than in 2015, the same proportion of ethnic minority members in safe seats, fewer people with public sector experience (though a larger proportion in the “safe” seats), more educated at state schools (a sharp rise) – and a stress on former local councillors. Indeed, the rise of the Tory councillor is a theme that this 2017 intake and its 2015 predecessor have in common. This time round, about half of the new Conservative MPs formerly served in local government; in 2015, the proportion was three in five. We called our study of the 2015 intake Cameron’s Children, and it was illustrated by a picture of a woman. One in three of that intake was female. This time round, we give you May’s Men and Women.
Since only one in five of the 2017 intake is a woman, perhaps the last two words of our title should be in brackets. Then again, maybe not. This is a much smaller group than that of 2015, which makes comparisons difficult.
It is no slight on the intake to say that we hope the circumstances of its creation, in which Associations had less say than at any time since the war, are never repeated. We offer a single example. The Aldershot Association wanted to interview Daniel Hannan. Why shouldn’t it have been allowed to do so? Furthermore, how come it had to seek permission to do so? Why did it have no right to?
We end on a point we have made before. If the Party wants real diversity among its MPs – let alone a One Nation reach and depth – it needs more with public sector experience, and a smaller proportion who gain it through serving in one of the three armed forces, the army. The intake has one former teacher, Alex Burghart. The Tory Parliamentary Party needs more – plus more nurses, doctors, police officers, postmen and firemen (of which the new intake has one: Bill Grant).