Were last week’s extraordinary events at Westminster drama or farce? History will deliver its verdict in due course but however this tumultuous period is eventually regarded, several of Central Bylines Conservative MPs will be remembered as being right at the heart of the action.
First, there are the big boys…
Chris Pincher (MP for Tamworth) could reasonably be called the straw that broke the Government’s back. On Thursday 30 June, he wrote to the prime minister resigning his post as deputy chief whip. He said that he’d drunk far too much the previous night and had embarrassed himself and others. What he didn’t say was that he’d forced himself on a couple of young men at the Carlton Club in Piccadilly and sexually assaulted them.
Boris Johnson initially tried to make light of the whole business. He also seems to have told multiple lies about what he did or didn’t know about Pincher’s previous history before appointing him as deputy chief whip – a post that includes pastoral care of MPs in its remit.
By the following Tuesday, Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) had had enough. At six o’clock, exquisitely timed to land right after another of Johnson’s televised apologies to the nation, Javid announced he was resigning as health secretary. His later statement in the House of Commons made it clear that he felt that No 10 was not truthful and that the blame for that lay at the top. He stated also that he felt that he had been lied to about partygate. In the wake of Johnson’s resignation, he has thrown his hat into the Conservative Party leadership contest.
Minutes after Javid resigned, Rishi Sunak followed suit. The prime minister was therefore down one health secretary and one chancellor. Step up, Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon), at the time, the education secretary. He rapidly replaced Sunak at the Treasury.
However, there are reports that he was Johnson’s second choice. The prime minister apparently wanted Liz Truss but buckled to Zahawi’s threat to quit the Government altogether if he wasn’t given the plum job. That evening, Zahawi agreed to serve the prime minister, but by the very next day, he was urging him to resign.
Like Javid, Zahawi has entered the leadership contest. But his credentials as both chancellor and potential prime minister are tarnished by the revelation that his tax affairs are under investigation by HMRC even though HMRC has previously said that they aren’t.
These two significant actions opened the floodgates. The next two days saw the resignation of more than fifty members of the Government plus letters and statements from backbenchers withdrawing their support from the prime minister, one of the more memorable interventions was from Gary Sambrook (Birmingham Northfield). Sambrook, hitherto mostly known for eating big dinners, was described as ‘incandescent’ as he related to the House of Commons what had happened in the Carlton Club.
…then there are the bit players…
Boris Johnson may have resigned but he hasn’t actually gone. The day after his short-tempered and self-pitying resignation speech, he needed to repopulate a Government that had been evacuated to the point where it was unable to function. He immediately appointed his most loyal supporters, regardless of any suitability or merit that they might have for their new role. It is tempting to speculate that he did so in order to force his eventual successor into having to fire them, thereby guaranteeing their immediate unpopularity.
Whatever his motivation, several of our own MPs have profited from his actions.
Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) has become a junior minister in the education department. He may not have quite the same sense of theatre as his colleague, Andrea ‘flip the bird’ Jenkyns, but no-one can doubt his unwavering loyalty to the current prime minister.
Amanda Solloway (Derby North) has become a junior minister at both the Home Office and the Foreign Office while Sarah Dines (Derbyshire Dales) has performed the same trick at the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. Meanwhile, Karl McCartney (Lincoln) has gone to transport.
Sarah Dines has another – rather less appetising – part in this drama. She has been accused by one of Pincher’s alleged victims of asking him if he was gay. When given a reply in the affirmative, she is alleged to have said, “that doesn’t make it straightforward.” Even other Tories have called her promotion to the justice department disgraceful.
…and finally, there’s Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
The long-standing member is an arch Brexiter and, of late, one of Boris Johnson’s most fervent and eloquent defenders. Who can forget his moving tales of constituents with tears in their eyes, begging him to make sure Boris stays?
He has been rewarded for his loyalty and creativity by being promoted to deputy leader of the House of Commons, a largely made-up job that has lain empty since 2019.
In tribute to his elevation, we offer this video of John Bercow paying homage to him through the medium of Beethoven;
Just one more thing
At time of writing, let’s not forget that Chris Pincher remains as (an independent) MP for Tamworth.