Being in Parliament at this time, is both exciting and bears a heavy responsibility. Exciting because of the need to execute the decision made by the Great British public in the European Referendum last week and sadly the need for a new Prime Minister. And responsibility, because of the need to make the right decisions.
It is also a rare time, often for the only time, Conservative Backbenchers are the kingmakers. Within Parliament, many (not all) Backbenchers spend most of their time acting as if they are on “Parliament’s Got Talent” in the vain hope that at some time the wheel of political fortune will land on their number. Some flutter their eyes at the Whips, march through the Government Lobby come what may (extending Sunday Trading anyone?) and even during the Referendum debate, campaign for Remain despite being selected by their Associations on a clear Eurosceptic/Leave ticket. Some even changed sides on the eve of the Referendum when it looked like Remain would win just to improve their chances of being plucked from the supposed obscurity of the Commons Backbenches.
This time, the roles are reversed. William Hague said in the Daily Telegraph on Monday that “Each MP is besieged with calls, testing, probing, recruiting, as the candidates try to assemble a credible team of followers or decide, with as much grace as they can muster, to bestow their support on another.” It is certainly true, my mobile is permanently on charge and buzzing. Suddenly I am transformed from being a part of the audience (I was never one for fluttering my eyes at the Whips) to having Simon Cowell-like status. In fact, all Conservative Backbenchers can claim “We are all Simon Cowell now!”…but without the high waistbands.
For me as a Conservative Backbencher in a marginal seat, there are four questions that I will be asking all potential leadership candidates this week.
My first question relates to the outcome of the European Referendum and whether during their negotiations with the European Union, they are fully committed to asserting our National Sovereignty. This includes the issue of our borders, our economic trade and our Parliamentary Sovereignty as well as on other issues such as our fisheries, agriculture and taxation. The Great British people have spoken and they have given a clear message to Parliament that they want to regain control of our lawmaking, our democracy and on those who govern us. They want to elect those they can remove. Any candidate not fully committed to this will not receive my support.
The second question is whether the candidates will be more collegiate and listen to the views of real Backbenchers before they make big political decisions, including on matters that were not in our manifesto and also on what will be in our 2020 manifesto. We already have had attempts at railroading big political matters through without Backbench consultation such as an extension to Sunday Trading and also compulsory schools academisation. And when I talk about listening to Backbenchers, I do not just mean those from the “same old same old” backgrounds and professions, I am talking about those who have real world experience, who have stayed close to their roots and who have to fight for every single vote at General Elections in their constituencies. Those Backbenchers have, and maintain, a real authenticity and their views chime with many of those who voted Leave last week. It is time their voices are heard more, and given more responsibility in the Party many have fought for years in.
The third question to ask is whether they believe we need another General Election. Any candidate proposing such a move will not be receiving my support and I expect will not be receiving many other votes from marginal seat Backbenchers either. The General Election last year gave a clear mandate for a Conservative Government to maintain its path of economic growth, reducing Government debt and improving our public services. It also voted for a Conservative Government to deliver a European Referendum. Whoever the new Prime Minister is will not change that path or direction. The manifesto we were elected on remains the central pillar of Government policy, whoever the leader is.
Finally, and some may say this is a parochial Parliament issue, but we need reform of the supposed Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). No one can argue that there is not a need for independent oversight of Members of Parliament given the terrible expenses scandal of 2008/09 but the way that the current IPSA behaves needs reform. There will barely be a Backbencher (from any party) who is not unhappy with their offhand negative attitude, their belief that MP’s are an inconvenience and not experienced the hurdles they place in the way of MP’s which prevent them from being able to serve effectively. They have a core belief that all MP’s are millionaires and are only in it for themselves. Anyone wanting to know why many MP’s have not taken up all of the personal security options available should understand that to arrange for Lone Workers’ Devices means entering a world that even Franz Kafka would not dream of. Many of us have complained bitterly about their attitude and the need to reform their culture and attitude. This is an issue that must be tackled by any new Prime Minister on behalf of the whole House and the future of our democracy. Reform will help attract the best people to want to be a Member of Parliament.
These four questions are those that all Conservative Backbenchers should be asking those who seek our support to be the next Leader of our Conservative Party and Prime Minister of our Country. They are questions that need to be answered and any candidate will need to give those commitments if they want to make it through to the final round and go before the wider Conservative membership.