Not since the Great Reform Act of 1832 has Westminster required such an overhaul. And it has only got worse since Boris Johnson’s majority ‘stonked’ onto the green benches. Ethan Croft profiles a rotten bushel of parliamentarians.
For the thoughtful follower of politics, Britain’s ‘crisis period’ might be remembered as one of the more boring interludes in recent history. Journalists and politicians ripped up the furniture, pulling out threads and finding only loose ends. Most people became tired by the inconclusive noise, drawing from it the vague impression that one of either party was incompetent and the other racist (interchangeable, according to persuasion). And so many fell back on the most inane expression in politics: ‘they’re all as bad as each other’.
A historian of the future will take up those loose ends and weave them into a clarifying tapestry. In the meantime, I offer a corrective to the common lament. They are not all as bad as each other, because some of them are really bad, and it was not a hung parliament and Brexit that made them that way. To demonstrate, I present a look at some truly egregious parliamentary candidates: over-promoted dunces, liars, gainfully employed lobby-fodder and supercilious nobodies. If they teach us one thing, let it be this – old habits die hard. There are 140 new MPs in this House of Commons. For most of them, their strongest vetting from party colleagues and reporters was a cursory Twitter search for racial slurs. Despite all the talk of a return to quiet politics and the smack of firm government, there are sure to be rotters among them.
Mike Gapes’ Last Stand
The Rt Hon. Mike Gapes MP once had a career ahead of him.
In the early months of 2019, that was a reasonable judgement on the Member for Ilford South’s future. Having served as an unassuming Labour backbencher and sometime select committee chair, retirement might have offered a few opportunities: a think tank sinecure, an effort in political biography and perhaps a peerage. Gapes could have been an éminence grise in SW1.
This he surely knew when, on a crisp morning last February, Gapes abandoned his old party and formed ‘The Independent Group’. He became, however briefly, an icon of political rebellion across Ilford and the Redbridge borough area. The audacious move sent ripples through the newsrooms of London. Journalists rushed to hear the great man speak.
It seems Gapes was as surprised as the hacks by his own courage: in his first stump speech for The Independent Group he gave a dramatic reading of his own CV. He grasped the microphone and began to rouse the crowd: ‘I’m Mike Gapes, the Member of Parliament for Ilford South.’
Hitherto Gapes’ reputation was solid but niche. During those first testy debates on Brexit in 2017, he emerged as Parliament’s foremost expert on dairy affairs. In December that year, he made one of those special contributions to the Irish Question that, like the words of Gladstone and Parnell, will echo through Parliament’s central lobby for decades: ‘we have fields on both sides of the border, cows that move backwards and forwards. We have the milk that is taken from cows in the south and cows in the north, put together in the same factory’.
His credit only increased as a member of The Independent Group. With barely a dozen MPs, Gapes was a small fish splashing around in a very small pond. He soon became their anointed ‘big brain’ on foreign affairs. But after his brief moment in The Sun (headline: ‘Sour Gapes: Who is Mike Gapes?’) he sank once more into the quicksand of backbench obscurity.
The election was unforgiving. Stripped of his old party’s resources, Gapes went head to head with the new Labour candidate, Sam Tarry, whom Gapes refused to address by name. A fan of Jeremy Corbyn, Tarry walked through Labour’s ranks to the House of Commons on the well-trodden path of the union wunderkind, having been a political officer at a major transport-workers’ union. Previous travellers include Richard Burgon MP (employment lawyer, various unions) and Dan Carden MP (caseworker, Unite).
Neither Gapes nor Tarry covered himself in glory at the general election. Gapes used some artistic tricks in his campaign leaflets to suggest he was the official Labour candidate. Meanwhile, Tarry raised eyebrows at the Ilford South hustings when, discussing anti-Semitism, he claimed that some ‘have sought to exploit the issue just because they don’t agree with Jeremy Corbyn’. Tarry won the election comfortably and Gapes is now without a seat or a career. But it was a Romantic failure – in the winter of his career, Mike Gapes became the underdog. Half a cheer for that.
Lies, Durham Lies
Plaudits to Dehenna Davison, the newly elected MP for Bishop Auckland, who has already received a glowing write-up in The Sunday Times as one of ‘Boris’ babies’. While we are not yet sure of their maternal provenance, readers learn that this group of fresh parliamentarians are ‘young, fun and working class’. Davison is singled out for praise. She ‘embodies a new type of young Conservative MP’, by being both ‘state-school educated… and socially liberal’. Trusting readers of the newspaper may be disappointed to learn that Davison in fact attended the private Sheffield High School. As for her credentials as a social liberal, Davison began her political career as the parliamentary aide of malevolent time-traveller Jacob Rees-Mogg, who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion.
But Davison’s honeymoon with Number Ten will not last. Barely a month after her election, she emerged as a new poster star for the ‘HS2 Review Group’, a growing clutch of Tory MPs opposed to the project. Davison’s reasons were a little pat. She told a local newspaper: ‘in my constituency we don’t really need HS2, but we’ll all be paying for it.’
This is an interesting approach to national infrastructure projects. Cast your mind back to the spring of 2012, and imagine the ponderings of Ms Davison had she been the MP for Bishop Auckland in those days: ‘in my constituency we don’t really need the Olympics, but we’ll all be paying for it.’ Or Ms Davison in 1958 as the first roads were laid at the Preston bypass, forming what would become the British motorway system: ‘in my constituency we don’t really need the foundation of affordable private transportation and the facilitation of the modern service economy, but we’ll all be paying for it.’ Think of Ms Davison groaning in the summer of 1944: ‘in my constituency we don’t really need the liberation of Western Europe, but we’ll all be paying for it.’
And spare a thought for the good people of Bishop Auckland. Last December, they were forced to choose between Davison and the comfortably ensconced Labour MP, Helen Goodman. Over a 14-year career in the Commons, Goodman gloried in three imbroglios. First, during the expenses scandal of 2009, she was caught out with one of the most pathetic contributions to parliamentary avarice: claiming back a few hundred pounds on two budget hotel trips made before she was elected to Westminster. Then, in 2015, Goodman tweeted the following – ‘If China is so great, why did Jeremy Hunt’s wife come to England?’. And, a few months before the election, she claimed that Boris Johnson had once burned a £50 note in front of a homeless person. This was a lie.
flight path carnival
chelsea and fulham
In the future, bards will sing of those brave Conservative MPs who sat upon the green benches sighing as their party became an electoral refuge for Tommy Robinson. The most preeminent of their number is surely the member for Chelsea and Fulham, Greg Hands. As a Cameron loyalist, Hands spent most of the past decade as an odds-and-ends junior minister in various departments, from the Treasury to International Trade. A Remainer, he slipped into the May ministry without complaint and nodded along with the rest of the Conservative Party as Mrs May barracked ‘citizens of nowhere’ at their 2016 conference.
When Britain was engulfed in ‘Brexit paralysis’, Mr Hands’ contributions were thus: first, in June 2018, he resigned from the government. This was an uncharacteristic show of defiance. Had the government finally crossed some moral line? Alas, Hands used his resignation – the ace card of any minister – to protest the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. This may sound honourable, but Hands had previously complained about night-time flights over Chelsea and Fulham disrupting his sleep pattern.
Hands’ second public act of the Brexit crisis was penning a largely unread paper on technological solutions to the Irish border dispute in July 2019.
We must ask why Hands made such an effort seven months after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, had dismissed techno-solutions as sinister woo-woo. Note that Mr Hands has a habit of missing the point when it comes to policy solutions. In response to the Grenfell fire north of his constituency, Hands suggested moving or postponing the annual Notting Hill Carnival.
When the Conservative Party decided it was time to change up the Prime Minister last summer, Mr Hands supported Jeremy Hunt, a man with comparably supine instincts. Then, when Hunt lost, he was for Boris Johnson. In all these years of swap and switch, it seems there has been only one political constant in Hands’ career – his breathless admiration of Rudy Giuliani, erstwhile Mayor of New York City, now (by day) an accomplice of President Trump and (by night) ‘a great crime fighter’. Ever since Hands was a young man working on Giuliani’s 1993 mayoral campaign, he has remained a ‘friend of Rudy’.
At the election, Hands was well-matched for daftness by his Labour opponent Matt Uberoi. In his youth Uberoi, like Hands, made some indiscreet career decisions. While interning at a broker’s firm, Uberoi was convicted of insider trading. If we could only combine the criminal flair of Mr Uberoi with the clean rap sheet of Mr Hands, Chelsea and Fulham would have the perfect candidate.
pesky fucking barristers
Biographers will have a hard time sussing Geoffrey Cox. Here was a man who had everything. Well, ‘everything’ from the point of view of any ambitious jurisprudence graduate. A QC and a Member of Parliament, his appointment as Attorney General was perhaps the highest a man of the law could achieve.
Yet the instincts of the toady must remain airborne in Downing Street. It didn’t take long for Cox to start tearing out chunks of his integrity and throwing them to a salivating Boris Johnson. It began in March 2019 when, giving his legal opinion on Theresa May’s renegotiated Irish Backstop, he duly betrayed the then Prime Minister and called it bunk. That was the point at which May’s departure, and Johnson’s rise, became inevitable (as Cox well knew). Who would have thought the words ‘the legal risk remains unchanged’ could change history? He gained admiration among some of his party’s fruitier members, and enjoyed their loud support while he brayed from the dispatch box. A series of unseemly rants in the House of Commons followed, culminating in his hammy denunciation of his colleagues: ‘This parliament is a dead parliament! This parliament is a disgrace!’
Yet what did Cox gain, other than a few flattering write-ups of his oratory in the right-wing press? In February’s cabinet reshuffle he was quietly sacked. His replacement as Attorney General, however, has a far clearer motive.
Suella Braverman, Member of Parliament for Fareham, is a crusader of sorts. A member of Middle Temple, she had an unremarkable legal career compared with her predecessor. But that was, no doubt, the fault of those interfering liberal elites who have infested the legal profession.
Braverman has set herself up as the nemesis of the ‘unelected, unaccountable judges’ who have, so she thinks, accumulated increasing power since the constitutional reforms of the Blair governments. As Attorney General, she promises to ‘restore the proper balance’ of law. That means killing – or at least seriously maiming – the Supreme Court, gutting judicial review, and, in the more extreme scenario, removing the independence of senior judges through the political vetting of appointments.
The Tory right spent the past few decades berating European lawyers for their flowery notion of ‘human rights’, and now Britain has left the EU the British big-wigs can get a kicking too. That only seems fair. In short, she will be putting lefty lawyers back in their box, and trampling over legal precedent to do it.
Should Braverman fail, other cabinet roles await, for she is a politician of broad interests. Were she to be posted to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, she could prosecute the ceaseless ‘battle against Cultural Marxism’ which Braverman says is upon us, and which we must all fight in ‘as Conservatives’. ‘Cultural Marxism’, a term mainly used by weirdos on internet forums, is considered anti-Semitic, as the Board of Deputies was quick to remind her. Braverman’s use of the phrase gave us a brief peek into the nightmare that must be her internet history. It seems those pesky Labour lawyers have been duly replaced by Conservative cranks.