Every MP can’t be a minister — or even a “special something to somewhere”. It’s a fact of life that there are only so many places to go round. But what about those who feel they’ve been unfairly overlooked?
In his popular ‘Red Box’ email briefing this morning, Tim Shipman discussed the Conservative MPs who are “putting in letters to the 1922 Committee demanding a vote of no confidence”. As well as “former cabinet ministers”, he claims that “I’m told between 5 and 8 members of the 2015 intake passed over for promotion are set to do the same”.
It’s an obvious truth that the party is facing tumultuous times, and with such times comes an expected breakdown of discipline. Context aside, however, it’s unsurprising when those MPs who haven’t been promoted by a leader — when they had expected that they might — display a renewed sense of frustration with that leader. In some cases, that seems justified. In others, however, it shows worrying signs of impatience within a culture of instant gratification and privileged careerism — signs that are also tell-tale of a party that knows the expedient instrumental benefits of making official appointments.
Back in 2016, Henry Hill wrote here about the “extraordinary” effect of the “payroll vote”, revealing that, under Cameron, almost half of the parliamentary party had gained such patronage.
Because it’s also unsurprising when MPs who have indeed been promoted by a leader — whether they expected it or not — gain a renewed sense of loyalty. And, even if that “loyalty” isn’t quite representative of their real views, this is not necessarily a bad thing: we all know that short-term concessions for long-term gains is a necessary part of politics. If you want to stick around for enough time to effect change, you’re going to have to compromise and band together with people with whom you don’t always agree.
And, of course, another reason “overlooked” MPs may feel frustrated could well be owing to a different Cameron legacy: his own lightning trajectory. On seeing him become leader of the party in four short years, many MPs must’ve thought, “Well, if he can do it…”.
But, while the modern world — with its time-saving technologies, commodification, and increased disposable incomes — can seem like a hurried place, parliament should not be. Proper processes and considered rigour are rightly at the heart of our nation’s traditional way of doing politics. Merit and opportunity should be, too. Gaining appointment to a ministerial position shouldn’t be an automatic result of time serving or obeisance, but rather a privilege extended to those best suited. An acceptance of parliamentary careerism denigrates the special role MPs play in our society.
As a lighter postscript, however, there’s another point to remember, today — something that might help to calm the “overlooked”. The latest ConHome survey went out this morning, asking, among other questions, “Who should be the next Conservative Party leader?”. In December, “none of the above” led the table on this, again. If the leadership chances of the “present generation” are slipping away untapped, then perhaps speed is no longer such a bonus.