Yesterday, an upset in the world of parliamentary committees took place large enough for people who aren’t total politics nerds to notice. The reason was that the government, who wanted Chris Grayling to be the new chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, was undone by Julian Lewis, a then Tory backbencher, who conspired with Labour MPs to get the chairmanship instead. The government retaliated against Lewis by removing the Tory whip from him, the strongest thing they could have done within the boundaries of common law.
People are interested in the story for two reasons. One, Chris Grayling has been humiliated, which is good fun for most people across the political spectrum. Two, for people on the left side of British politics, a chance to claim that Boris Johnson is a dictator in the making. Dealing with the second thing here: governments whip their MPs to vote for the leader’s choice of chairs of committees all the time. It is extremely common practice. The only reason you noticed is because it didn’t work this time. Which is way more interesting to think about.
Why did Lewis defy the government like that? Particularly given BJ has shown no shyness in removing the whip from MPs when it has suited him in the past, so Lewis would have been well aware of the potential consequences. Particularly given Lewis is no latter day Remainy liberal type – he’s an ERG supporter and solidly on the right of the party. He should be the type absolutely cheerleading for Boris at this stage. So why did he defy the prime minister so openly instead?
I have no idea why Lewis did it but I can hazard a guess. A lot of Tory MPs are getting frustrated with the Number 10 machine and Boris Johnson’s leadership style. The Lewis-Grayling situation could be the first of many such upsets. Perhaps HMG being so harsh with Lewis, removing the whip, will deter others. Then again, perhaps it won’t. The fact that it could happen once suggests the government needs to be mindful of rebellion becoming an issue. Julian Lewis isn’t the chap you would have picked out of the parliamentary party to have done something like this, which suggests there are a lot of other Tory MPs who might be open to defiance.
As always with Boris, the usual rules don’t seem to apply, so let’s see. He’s one of those guys in Westminster where you think gravity is finally going to kick in and yet there he is, floating in mid-air still, somehow. Yet I always come back to David Cameron. Everything worked out for him – until one day, it didn’t. With a whole other phase of the CoVid crisis to get through and no deal Brexit looming on the horizon, Boris has a whole lot of gravity to defy in the next six months.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. There is also a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters thrown into the mix while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!