1/100: The Class of 2010 #TheRight100
ConservativeHome has launched a 40,000 word guide to the one hundred most influential people and groups on the Right. During this week we are publishing seven of the profiles contained in that guide. Number one in our list is the Prime Minister, David Cameron, published yesterday. If you do not subscribe to the ConservativeHome Quarterly you can purchase a copy by sending a £20 cheque, payable to ConservativeHome, to Michelle Hollands, ConservativeHome, 5 The Sanctuary, Westminster SW1P 3JS.
At the 2010 general election there were no fewer than 147 new Conservative MPs elected to the Commons for the first time - along with one retread, Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North). This huge influx of new blood represents nearly half the entire parliamentary party and, even more significantly, nearly two thirds of the Tory backbenches, once ministers and whips are taken out of the equation.
But perhaps the most important point to bear in mind about the 2010 intake is the long-term influence they will have collectively, rather than as individuals, over the Conservative Party in the years – indeed, decades – to come. David Cameron may have presided over the most radical single overhaul of the composition of the Conservative parliamentary party in history. Scores of these new MPs will remain in the Commons long after he has left Downing Street, long after the Coalition has expired and long after the 2010 Tory manifesto has disappeared on a dust-covered shelf.
And whilst they may have entered the Commons on Cameron’s watch, it should not be assumed that they are all in the Prime Minister’s mould. Yes, there are a few who have joined the party since he became leader – like Rehman Chishti (Gillingham), Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park), Helen Grant (Maidstone and the Weald) and Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) - but the vast majority are long-standing Tory members, most of whom cut their political teeth during the 1980s, making them “Thatcher’s Children” rather than “Cameron’s Children”.
And since they have entered the Commons, they have shown themselves to be more independent-minded and liable to rebel against the Tory whip than historically has been the case this early in a Parliament. David Nuttall (Bury North) swiftly emerged as the rebel-in-chief of the 2010 intake, second only to Philip Hollobone among the whole parliamentary party when it comes to defying the whips. Others notching up a fair few rebellions include Mark Reckless (Medway), Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) and the aforementioned Zac Goldsmith.
Yet this independent-mindedness has not come as a surprise to many observers: after the expenses scandal in the previous Parliament, MPs are more aware than ever that their constituents are suspicious of, if not deeply hostile to, the political class and anyone seen to be acting as nothing more than lobby fodder is not going to gain the respect of their electorate.
Moreover, lots of the new intake already had a personal support base and following in their constituency which predated their election as an MP: 29 of them fought their seat once or twice before finally winning it in 2010 and 28 had served as a local councilor within their patch before entering the Commons. Most of them were never on Cameron’s A-list of favoured candidates and prospered despite him therefore, not because of him. There is also the issue that with all constituency boundaries being redrawn and some MPs aware that they may have to go through a tricky reselection, they are more likely to be looking to the attitudes of their constituencies and local Conservative associations rather than the Government Whips’ Office when deciding how to vote in Parliament.
It was doubtless with all that in mind that the Whips’ Office have already seen to having no fewer than 22 of the Class of 2010 appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretaries – unpaid ministerial aides who are, crucially, expected to vote in Commons divisions with the Government “payroll“. Such a large number of PPSs being chosen from the ranks of a new intake is unprecedented this early in a Parliament.
All PPSs now meet regularly for team talks with the PM’s own PPS, Desmond Swayne. This group is one of a number of attempts by the party leadership to break the power of the 1922 Backbench Committee. Once the absolutely dominant forum for the backbenches the 1922 faces an erosion of its power. The Chief Whip has held a number of special meetings with the Class of 2010 in a bid to create an alternative forum for them. The new MPs with the narrowest majorities have established a group called “The Forty”, ostensibly to exchange campaigning ideas to help them retain their seats at the next election, but which also looks set to focus ministers’ minds on action that is needed to ensure that Tory support holds up in the marginals. 10 Downing Street is actively courting this group. It also has high hopes for a new mainstream group of Eurosceptic backbenchers. Overseen by, among others, George Eustice – the Tory leader’s former press secretary – it is a group that has the leadership’s fingerprints all over it. Dr Frankenstein will confirm, however, that creations can sometimes develop lives of their own and with more than 100 MPs attending its first meeting this new group has the potential to run out of control.
Recent weeks have brought signs that the Class of 2010 are already prepared to set out their own visions for the future of the party. Matt Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi have produced a book entitled Masters of Nothing. More interesting has been ‘After the Coalition’; a book written by five of the new intake – Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Liz Truss. Other new intakers have contributed to David Davis’ ‘The Future of Conservatism’. These include Steve Baker, Therese Coffey, Richard Drax and Dom Raab (again). The common theme to many of these essays is a belief that the issue of our age isn’t 9/11, the Arab Spring or the banking crisis but a massive transfer of economic and therefore political power from west to east. They blame the situation on huge public and private debts, an enervating welfare state, the fall down global education leagues and heavy regulation. They fear that unless Britain turbocharges its economy, bright young people will leave these shores. They believe that Britain faces a crisis of competitiveness and that the coalition has brought a penknife to an economic swordfight with India, China and other rising nations.
The Class of 2010’s great worry is that we will emerge from the economic crisis with a model of capitalism that is farther away from the ideal. They see the solution as greater competition, not more regulation.
If there is a defining idea for this new generation of Conservative MPs it is empowerment of the little guy against the big and powerful. More power to choose a school for your children. More freedom to set up a business without red tape. A simpler way to transfer your bank or electricity account to a rival supplier. Some are even willing to contemplate less tax on income and a little more on wealth.
So the Class of 2010 is already making their mark in a variety of ways and here are but ten specific examples of how they are doing so:
- Harriett Baldwin (Worcestershire West) – Has been leading the charge in demanding a fair deal on behalf of England in seeking an answer from the Government to the West Lothian Question.
- Charlie Elphicke (Dover) – In seeking to demonstrate how the Big Society can be embraced, he has championed a bid by his constituents to turn the port of Dover into a community-owned trust.
- Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park and North Kingston) – Combining his environmentalism and Euroscepticism Goldsmith has campaigned against the EU’s treatment of fish discards.
- Robert Halfon (Harlow) – His campaign for lower fuel duty has been one of the most popular of the Coalition’s new ePetitions.
- Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) – Successfully gained a Second Reading for her Private Member’s Bill promoting permanent daylight-saving time, despite Government opposition.
- Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) – Has been campaigning for the introduction of a US-style debt ceiling that will stop future governments from increasing borrowing by stealth.
- Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) – Has established a cross-party campaign demanding a PFI rebate, encouraging the companies who benefited from the PFI during the Labour years to give back a small portion of their profits to the taxpayer. The Treasury has acted on his recommendations and the savings may be as much as £1.5 billion.
- Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) – The civil libertarian-in-chief amongst the new intake who has variously demanded the abolition of control orders, lashed out at the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling on votes for prisoners and made scathing attacks on the equality legislation bequeathed by the last Labour Government.
- Rory Stewart (Penrith and the Border) – A humbler and less interventionist foreign policy. Stewart has argued against Coalition policy in Afganistan.
- Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) – The former GP, who was the first Tory candidate to be selected by a full, all-postal, open primary has made waves with her criticisms of the NHS reforms.