An orgy of internal elections to select committees reached its climax this afternoon with a stunning outcome for members of the new intake. I haven’t yet had time to go through the Labour results but, on the Conservative side, the class of 2010 dominates the membership of even the most prestigious select committees, such as foreign affairs, treasury and public accounts. Whereas almost all candidates from the 2010 intake won a place for their first choice, many older MPs will be disappointed: several committees – including business, innovation and skills – had attracted over 25 candidates for 4 places.
The results are a marked contrast to those of the ballots just held for the chairmanships of these committees, for which I believe no members of the new intake even stood. By my reckoning, of the 82 select committee members elected by a secret ballot of the parliamentary party (excluding ministers), no fewer than 69 were new boys and girls. That’s a stonking 84 per cent of all Tory select committee members (excluding the chairs). It was a clean sweep for the 2010 intake in half the committees, with, as far as I can tell, no MPs of any seniority elected to the membership of 12 out of the 24 committees in parliament:
But this raises at least two potential problems.
First, the result risks creating a “them and us” clash of generations. Conflict between the old guard of seasoned backbench MPs and a jumbo 2010 intake filled with zeal to fulfil promises of a “new politics” has hitherto been remarkably absent in this parliament. I hope it stays that way. The warm welcome that the 147-strong new intake has received has been confidence-inspiring and hugely appreciated. It would be a shame if collegiality were now to suffer from any sense that the new intake has failed to show due deference and sufficient self-restraint.
The second – and more serious – problem is that the dominance of such important committees by more or less unseasoned parliamentarians may lead to doubts about their effectiveness. There will be a huge burden of responsibility on the new intake to rise to the challenge. Having made a grab for membership of these committees and having snared the overwhelming majority of slots, the new boys and girls must make sure they strain every sinew to do the job well. The fact that select committees are open to the public, recorded by Hansard and now also often televised will bring greater transparency to their performance.
For my part, I am thrilled to have been elected to the public accounts committee, along with fellow new boys Steve Barclay, a whizz from the City, and Matt Hancock, George Osborne’s former chief of staff. The PAC’s role is to monitor value-for-money in the public sector and there could hardly be a more critical job right now. But I’m also aware that four out of five of the Conservative members have only been MPs for seven weeks (although Chris Heaton-Harris served on a similar committee in the European parliament before this year switching into national politics). I’m glad Richard Bacon, an existing PAC member, will be there alongside us as we climb the steep learning curve ahead.
I can’t wait to start.
Jo Johnson, a former editor of the FT’s Lex column, is the newly-elected Conservative MP for Orpington.