Westminster's movers and shakers in 2011
As the new political term begins, our parliamentary sketch writer, Simon Carr, casts his vote for the faces who'll be making the headlines this year
Tuesday 04 January 2011
"I'm not in for it and wouldn't take it," he posted this week on Twitter, referring to the rumoured job offer of ambassador to Washington. No, he's staying in Westminster. He has been working the tea room too, in a way he never has before. But what is he up to and what does he want? Blood is even thicker when it's spilt, but would the answer to a failed Miliband leadership be another Miliband? Hard to know what to look out for, but keep your eye on him. His brother certainly is.
He, his wife, and their strong supporter John Healey took the top three places in the Shadow Cabinet elections. Ed and Yvette were both neutralised by the posts they were given. Body language in the Commons (flashes of contempt for his leader and the shadow chancellor) shows this transitional character is still on his journey. It will be hard for him to operate without resurrecting his reputation for factional cage-fighting.
Only four of the shadow cabinet (elected by his MPs) voted for him, and nearly half are going to vote against his recommendation in the AV referendum. He has all the time in the world, still popular among many in the PLP, and when he comes to the famed policy relaunch no doubt it will be full of good things. But he has problems commanding the attention of his senior colleagues, he is often seen alone, and his glorious YouTube Christmas message (Google it) was everything his critics could have wanted. Watch for: deteriorating personal relations, failures of his shadow chancellor.
One must of necessity look out for Labour's former chief whip, sacked by the new leader – but you'd never actually see him doing it, whatever it was he did.
This intensely political Speaker made the mistake of revealing his true colours to the new Tory intake when he contemptuously chastised the Government chief whip in a packed House of Commons. Now his deputy Speakers (elected and not subject to his patronage) are clearly marking their territory as independent candidates for the succession. There is a prize not yet quite in the Speaker's grasp: to chair the House Business committee, if it should be set up, and thereby take a commanding position over Government legislation. He'd have to swing it as an ex officio position of the Speaker, as he'd never win an election to it now.
Benn – along with Andy Burnham – has shown a great affinity with opposition. Released from their constricting briefs, both display freedom, energy, verve, confidence. Benn's public personality has evolved from the over-educated turkey he gave us in the deputy leader elections and lays about himself at Business questions, punching above the weight of his office. He is well placed to conjure support from all sides of the House (and particularly his own) if he sorts out the IPSA mare's nest in the run-up to Easter.
Clegg's mental health is now of primary importance to Cameron. The pressures of the deputy prime minister's three jobs is amazing, and requires super-human resilience. As decay starts from below, the double-headed creature that is Cameron/Clegg will be the last supporter of the Coalition. Already Lib-Dem activists are falling away and the Orange Book Liberals are under-represented on the ground. David Laws will surely make an early return to bolster the DPM. To watch: the failure of Clegg's Lords reform package, the failure of the AV referendum, and the Oldham by-election.
How long can he sustain himself in the humiliation of office without power, authority or even – it may come to be – influence. Watch out for: pretty girl reporter with an admiring laugh.
Iain Duncan Smith
Some strange vortex has opened up in this man's mind. He stands at the bar of the House declining to sit with the chooks on his benches. Sometimes he grins wildly, sometimes he chews gum with great grinding circular movements of his jaw. He looks as though he might go off at any moment. He really should be searched before he's allowed in. Watch out for: ticking alarm clock, or squealing Geiger counter as he walks past.
He's found himself a bit of a voice of the Tory right, despite his lowly position in the hierarchy. More senior colleagues of his disposition head select committees or, if John Redwood, aren't taken seriously. Attacks on and criticism of Liberal Democrat lefties sound better in the dry Bone way than from, say, Philip Davies or Philip Hollobone.
* Who will be the Coalition's silent majority candidate? It won't be Nadine Dorries who has troubles of her own. Priti Patel? Possibly, but how about new-intake Anna Soubry. An ex-journalist and barrister, she has a record of unusually free speech. It will be this person's job to popularise a "stop moaning" message: the "keep calm and carry on" candidate. The message might be more assertive as Ms Soubry has the wallop of a more famous Tory woman from an earlier era.
* Sam Gyimah, Rehman Chisti, Kwasi Kwarteng and Nadhim Zahawi for the Tories all have a more prominent personality and engaging presence than their WASP counterparts. The virtues of diversity became apparent to hoary Tories during the tuition fees debate, but the BME Tories don't have about them the tang of affirmative action; they have everything they need to operate in their own right.
* Among the Labour new intake there are the diligent attenders Emma this, Rachel that, Toby the other, Luciana and Alison. They might look across the floor to Anne MacIntosh to see how a hardworking parliamentary career might develop over a decade (that is, not very much). Chi Onwurah looks very steady, always speaks within her range and does it fluently. She supported Ed Miliband as well. Apart from the obvious differences, she's not unlike Therese Coffey – a Tory backbencher to keep an eye out for.
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