The elevation of Nicky Morgan to cabinet has created a vacancy for one of the biggest jobs open to backbench Conservatives: chair of the Treasury select committee. With Boris Johnson charting a course for a no-deal Brexit, Morgan’s successor will have a pulpit from which to hold ministers and Whitehall to account over the policy that will define his government.
So who might succeed the new Culture Secretary? The first and thus far only candidate to have declared formally is Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, deputy chair of the European Research Group and leader of the so-called Spartans – the 28 Tory Eurosceptics who voted against the withdrawal agreement three times.
Baker is already a member of the committee, and having declined the opportunity to return to his old job at the Brexit department last week is also in search of a platform. The Wycombe MP’s devout belief in free market liberalism – and particularly the teachings of the Austrian School economist Ludwig Von Mises – is just as fundamental to his politics as his Euroscepticism. A former employee of Lehman Brothers, he was a trenchant critic of much of George Osborne’s economic policy.
Sources told the New Statesman that Baker will likely run on a platform including tax and the treatment of taxpayers by the state; the treatment of consumers by the financial sector; the future of finance, its regulation, emerging monies such as cryptocurrencies, and the next global financial crisis.
Baker has also vowed to hold the new government to account over Brexit. He told the NS: “I am confident that the committee will want to continue Brexit scrutiny and of course as chair I would be delighted to facilitate that.”
He starts the race at a disadvantage, however. Though the chairmanship is allocated to the Conservatives, the entire Commons is eligible to vote and as such Labour MPs — almost all of whom are Remainers — are the crucial swing electorate. In 2017 Morgan beat Jacob Rees-Mogg, Baker’s close ally, by 290 to 226 votes. More recently Simon Hoare, a member of the One Nation caucus of self-styled Tory moderates and an opponent of no-deal, beat two ERG candidates to the chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
But MPs of all parties will be keen for close scrutiny of the government’s preparations for no-deal — something which Baker, having been denied the chance to help lead them, will be equally keen to provide.