Diary

ConHome Diary: The Shame of the DCMS Select Committee & Why Brexiteer Ministers Need to Evangelise

15 Jun 2018 at 14:29

Philip Lee’s resignation came as a bolt out of the blue, according to many learned commentators this week. Well, on this issue maybe, but several people have told me of his unhappiness at being overlooked for promotion to the Cabinet. I think most politicians are only ever a couple of steps from resignation, but few have the balls to ever go through with it. If they do, they will have gone through utter contortions on the way to reaching the decision. I may not agree with Philip Lee’s resignation, but I respect his reasons, even if I think he has drawn the wrong conclusions. It has been disappointing to see some people trashing Philip’s reputation over the last few days. I suppose we all have to appreciate that all politics is tribal, and when someone does something to damage the tribe, others are going to react accordingly, but even so, some of it has been pretty distasteful.
One thing I would say, though. If an MP is going to make a major decision like resignation, the first thing you do is ring your constituency chairman and explain why you’re doing it. He/she can then ring round the key officers and members and get them onside. The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reported on Tuesday morning that the chairman of Bracknell Conservatives found out about his MP’s resignation through social media. Understandably, he was a tad miffed.
Older readers may remember that I was up against Philip Lee for the Bracknell selection in the autumn of 2009. There were seven of us in the final with Philip, Rory Stewart and me contesting the final three. At that point I knew it was curtains for me. I realised that if they wanted a risky choice they’d go for Rory and if they wanted a safe local choice they’d pick Philip. I knew I couldn’t come through the middle. I still get people who were at the selection meeting telling me that they voted for me! I often wonder what might have been…
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I am a big fan of select committees. When they are well chaired and MPs are on top of their briefs, they do a superb job of holding the Executive to account and they are capable of shining light into some very murky corners indeed. Sadly, the DCMS Select Committee displayed none of these attributes when they interviewed Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore from Leave.eu. It was a shambles of a hearing and brought the whole select committee system into disrepute. Banks and Wigmore, who had legitimate questions to answer about all sorts of things escaped, not only totally unscathed but arguably with their reputations enhanced. It takes a particular brand of incompetence to allow that to happen. Of the 11 members of the committee, only 7 turned up. Given the MPs who were absent will have known this was a high profile witness session one wonders what other urgent business they may have had. One MP turned, Rebecca Pow (no, me neither), turned up late and when she started asking her questions she started talking about the Electoral Commission, something the chairman had instructed his colleagues not to do due to ongoing legal cases. Not a single one of the MPs laid a glove on Banks or Wigmore. Indeed, it was the other way around. I do hope Damian Collins has watched back the entire three hours, ideally while he was sitting next to Nicky Morgan. She might have then given him a few tips about how to do it properly. Meanwhile, the rest of the committee should resign in embarrassment and let someone else have a go. Their replacements couldn’t possibly do a worse job.
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For the first time I really fear that the government is about to deliver something they will call Brexit, but to any normal observer, it won’t look like Brexit at all. Remainers in Parliament look as if they are to deliver an almost fatal blow to a clean Brexit by wresting back control of the saga from the government. It looks to me as if we are going to head for the softest of soft Brexits, where we abide by many of the most pernicious rules of the EU, pay into the coffers but have no say in what happens. Of course, this has been the agenda of Olly Robbins, the PM’s chief Brexit adviser, all along. And when you hear a Remain supporting MP say: “Of course we respect the result of the referendum, but…” we all know full well that their agenda is not to make a success of Brexit, it is to frustrate it and ideally put a stop to it. At least Andrew Adonis had the balls to admit it. The rest won’t. But that’s their agenda. And for the first time I now wonder whether they might not succeed. Andrew Lilico wrote a superb article for CAP X on Wednesday in which he essentially said that if we’re not going to get a Brexit worth the name, and it’s a half way house, that would be the worst of all worlds – worse than remaining a member of the EU. I tend to agree. But we’re in this position for several reasons. Number 1 is that the Prime Minister didn’t get a majority in the election which totally undermined David Davis’s negotiating position. It all went downhill from there, not that things had bene particularly impressive prior to that. But we are also in this position because all the leading Brexiteers seem to have given up on explaining why Brexit is not only a good idea and why Britain can make a success of it. They have been lamentable at countering the Remain propaganda about various issues, but in particular about Northern Ireland and the Customs Union. Boris has a had a go on occasion but usually fucks it up due his inability to do it while retaining a semblance of loyalty. Where are the others? It can’t all be left to Iain Duncan Smith or Jacob Rees Mogg. Every single Brexit supporting minister and MP needs to get out there and sell the product. The Remainers have their tails up. They’re setting the agenda. If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. I have lost count of the number of people who have called into my radio show, texted, emailed or tweeted me to tell me that if Brexit isn’t implemented they not only won’t vote Conservative, they won’t bother voting ever again. I really fear for our democracy. I don’t want a Donald Trump figure to emerge here, but that’s where we are heading. People will not forgive a whole class of politicians who betray them by not respecting the referendum result. There will be a fierce backlash if that happens. And if that happens, I know who to blame. And so do you.

  • Last week I wrote a piece about the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and the fact that he had only recently started attending board meetings of Transport for the North. I wrote that he could have attended all the meetings since his election last May but had chosen not to do so. While in theory this is true, in fact, Deputy Mayor Sir Richard Leese was the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) representative on the TfN board until late March. The GMCA meeting on 29 March agreed that Andy Burnham would in future be the GMCA representative and since then he has attended every meeting and teleconference. I’m happy to clarify.

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