Marcus Dysch

Influential MPs to look out for

The outcome of the contests to elect new chairs of nearly 30 Commons select committees is revealing.

July 20, 2017 11:29

As MPs pack their sun-cream and swimming costumes and jet off on their summer breaks, those of us left behind in Westminster are trying to make sense of the past few months.

Two of the most popular talking points among journalists and aides are the future leaderships of the main parties.

Which individuals — either veteran figures or up-and-coming, fresh-faced MPs — can command the backing of their colleagues now and over the coming months to propel them into a position to run for their party’s top job?

The outcome of the contests to elect new chairs of nearly 30 Commons select committees is revealing. 

These small groups of cross-party politicians scrutinise the work of government and its departments, often with unexpectedly serious outcomes. 

You may remember, for example, that a year ago the Home Affairs Select Committee’s investigation into rising antisemitism concluded that Labour, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, had been incompetent in dealing with Jew-hate and said the party could be seen as institutionally antisemitic.

So last week’s results could be significant. 

The best news for supporters of Israel came with Tom Tugendhat replacing fellow Tory Crispin Blunt as chair of the Foreign Affairs committee.

Mr Blunt, a long-standing critic of Israel, was criticised after last year’s party conference for chairing an event alongside a campaigner who supported the blood-libel cleric Raed Salah.

Before the general election brought a halt to his committee’s work, Mr Blunt had been overseeing the gathering of evidence for a report on the Middle East peace process, which was also considering, “the way that foreign states and interested parties seek to influence UK policy” following the Al Jazeera-triggered controversy on lobbying earlier this year. Needless to say, pro-Israel campaigners were concerned about what would be in the final report. 

Mr Tugendhat, meanwhile, takes a rather different approach. An Arabic-speaking lieutenant-colonel who served alongside the Royal Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, he wrote convincingly in the Spectator in January of his belief that — shock, horror! — Israel is actually not the source of every problem in the region. 

He understands Israel’s importance as an ally of Britain and believes this country should “be prepared to stand against consensus” to support it.

Elsewhere, there was further good news for Israel supporters and Jewish politicians.

Robert Halfon, the Jewish Harlow MP sacked from the government by Theresa May after the election, won the contest for the Education committee — a role which will allow him the chance to set his career back on track with the possibility of occupying another cabinet position in the future.

Rachel Reeves, an officer of Labour Friends of Israel, takes the helm at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee. 

Two more leading LFI supporters, Mary Creagh and Lilian Greenwood, will lead the Environmental Audit group and Transport committee. Tory Julian Lewis will lead the Defence group.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, whose constituency includes the town’s substantial Strictly Orthodox community, has a key role on the committee, which helps decide which topics backbenchers will be given time to debate in the Commons’ chamber. 

While his views on Israel have been questioned in the past, Mr Mearns also remains the co-vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews. 

These roles and committees may seem peripheral or obscure, but they indicate the healthy position the community finds itself in at Westminster. 

For all the doom and gloom felt by many British Jews following the relative success of Mr Corbyn in last month’s election, the realities in Parliament are in fact rather different.

Admittedly, most of these politicians are not household names, and some of them may never rise higher than the posts they now occupy.

But in the tea rooms and the bars, these select committee chairs wield power and hold influence among their colleagues. 

As Margaret Hodge showed in her time chairing the Public Accounts Committee during the coalition government, a hard-working chair, supported by tenacious members asking the right questions, can earn plenty of high-profile media coverage while holding senior ministers to account.

So remember to keep your eyes on these often under-acknowledged figures when they return from their deck-chairs in September — they could very well hold the key to a far brighter political future than many observers imagine.

July 20, 2017 11:29

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