Could many newbies step straight into ministerial jobs?
After yesterday let us assume a Conservative majority at the next General Election and if the betting markets are right then the incoming government would have upwards of 350 MPs.
Of those only about 195 are Conservative MPs at present but taking account retirements and other factors only about 175 of the expected 350, about half, will have had any experience of serving in Parliament – a proportion that would increase if the Tories do even better.
Even of the 175 or so ‘experienced’ MPs, around 50 were elected for the first time in 2005.
The result is that only a third of David Cameron’s first set of governing benches will have been in Parliament for more than 5 years – the Leader himself will be one of the ‘old guard’ having been elected in 2001. From this neophyte rabble, Cameron must form a government.
The payroll vote tends to rope in around 100 or so MPs, who function either as Ministers of State, or as their Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Clearly there is great talent in the newer intakes – Justine Greening and Adam Afriyie were both elected in 2005, and should feel hard-done by if they don’t get plum Ministerial jobs. But where will Cameron turn to fill his other governmental jobs?
To my mind he has three options. The obvious move is to make the best use of the experience he will already have in the Commons – we could perhaps see a return of ‘Big Beasts’ like David Davies and Malcolm Rifkind who maintain loyal support amongst many activists across the country.
The more daring move would be to keep the old guard as far from the levers of power as possible, and to shape a Government of the Neophytes, loyal solely to the Cameron project and to their leader. The third option would be to take a mixture of these with an emphasis on the latter, but complimented by elevating people with the relevant experience to the Lords.
Like Gordon Brown I would be surprised if Cameron did not make use of his newfound powers of patronage to appoint 40-50 new Conservative Peers, and it would make sense to appoint people capable of handling Ministerial portfolios.
I don’t think the relative lack of Parliamentary experience will hamper Cameron’s first term in office – experience gained outside of Parliament might be more relevant – but having a share of experienced hands who are familiar with the system (and more importantly with the Civil Service) might prove prudent. However, if Cameron chooses those veterans to sit in the Lords (at the pleasure of his personal patronage) and/or fills his ranks with in the Commons with those elected under his leadership, then he will be in an incredibly strong position to dictate terms from the first day in office.
How much power of patronage to sacrifice in return for experience that owes him less. That is his dilemma – and it’s one which every political leader should perhaps envy. So which way will he choose?