The Conservatives secured a thumping mandate at the general election, getting 365 MPs in the new Parliament, up from the 317 that Theresa May managed in 2017. This increase of 48, however, actually masks a much greater turnover. 109 of those 365 MPs were not in the last Parliament. More than one sixth of the new Parliament is comprised of new Conservative MPs.
Most of these MPs are relatively unknown. They will, however, play a critical role in this and future Parliaments. So who exactly are they?
The sheer number of these MPs makes answering this question a substantial logistical challenge. Your dynamic duo have teamed up, looking at local newspapers, Facebook and wikipedia pages, constituency websites and twitter accounts, to be exposed to the words “Get Brexit Done” at a rate that far exceeds the annual recommended dosage. Here is a table with the background data to these two articles.
What have we found?
- Gender: 35, just under one third, are women. Though a long way short of parity, this is a significant increase on the 21% of Conservative MPs who were female in the 2017 Parliament.
- Sexuality: It has been widely reported that 20 of these MPs are LGBT – we have not checked their bedroom activities or looked under their clothing to confirm, but if so the 6% of LGBT Tory MPs in the 2017 Parliament will increase significantly
- Former MPs: 10 are former MPs who have made a reappearance (some, but not all, in their previous constituencies). At least three have become candidates partly through family connections: two are spouses of the previous MP and one is the daughter of a previous candidate. One MP is the son of Patrick Mayhew and another is the niece of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
- Former SPADs: As always, it is hard to count exactly how many former spads have shinned one knee length further up the greasy pole – many candidates are reluctant to advertise their previous political experience. There are at least 10 former advisers to ministers and five former MPs’ assistants. The true numbers are likely to be higher. So this intake has its share of political insiders.
- Other previous occupations: What of the rest? The sandwich shop owner, the musician and the bricklayer may catch the eye, but as usual we find plenty of bankers and lawyers. Any move by the Parliamentary Conservative party away from the professional classes is incremental rather than seismic.
- THAT issue: There is, however, one major sea change. Previous intakes of Conservative MPs, up to and including the 2017 intake, had been dominated by MPs who voted Remain. Not so this time: there are fewer than a dozen new MPs who admit to voting Remain and most of those are retread MPs. The 2019 cohort is chock-a-block with enthusiastic Leavers. Many campaigned energetically for Leave in the referendum campaign. Even Kensington has an MP who wants a tough Brexit (though she neglected to advertise this to her constituents). Perhaps most indicative of the mood, Kate Griffiths claims to have voted Leave though she participated in a photo-opportunity with her husband as he went to cast his Remain vote. Many have already joined the ERG. Given the expulsion of retirement of almost all its prominent Remainers, the Conservative party’s capture by Leavers is now complete. But we need to qualify this statement slightly: a few of the new intake, e.g. Anthony Browne (South Cambs), have recorded reservations at the prospect of No Deal. Some more may have reservations in private. This could become significant if the negotiations with Brussels get into trouble later in the year.
- Non-Brexit opinions: Beyond Brexit, the new MPs have been strikingly coy about policy commitments. Most have thrown themselves into a very localist agenda, perhaps at the instigation of CCHQ. Reviving local high streets is a common position, though none are so rash as to say how this might be accomplished. At least two new MPs, not content with Brexit, are campaigning for their constituencies to secede from their current local council. There are many MPs vowing to get their share of funds for their local NHS and infrastructure. With so many MPs making these two elements central to their personal campaign, the government is going to need to keep on top of them. NHS funding needs outstrip inflation as the population grows, ages and expects more expensive treatments. This could be a major flashpoint for the government.
The localist agendas could lead to conflict in different ways. For example, southern MPs are campaigning against HS2 and northern MPs are campaigning for it. They can’t both win, though some fudge or can-kicking might be the result.
What is also interesting is what is NOT there. In their statements of priorities, very few MPs other than those with a military background, mentioned defence, or Britain’s place in the world (other than Brexit) and few discuss deregulation, privatisation or any of the other issues that motivated the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the next article we move from the overall picture to look at some of the individual MPs who are worth keeping an eye on – for good reasons and bad.