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. As Boris Johnson charts 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? In recent days, several former Conservative ministers have declared to the New Statesman their intention to run. Though the chairmanship is allocated to the Tories, every MP gets a vote – and as such, Labour MPs will be the crucial swing electorate. They will be looking for a candidate with a history of independent thinking, the capacity to upset the government, and Remain bona fides.
The hardest of Conservative Leavers, meanwhile, will be looking for much the same thing: a candidate willing and able to hold ministers and Whitehall to account over its preparations for a no-deal outcome. MPs will elect a chair from the four confirmed runners – and any colleagues who join them – when the Commons returns from recess in September.
The former Brexit minister and leader of the so-called Spartans – the hard Brexiteers who voted against Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement at every time of asking – was the first Conservative MP to declare, having turned down a junior ministerial post at Dexeu. An idiosyncratic strain of free market liberalism is as fundamental to his politics as his Euroscepticism. Known for his distrust of fiat currencies, the Wycombe MP has advocated a return to the gold standard. He has vowed to use the chairmanship to hold Johnson to account on Brexit, and told the NS he would run on a platform focussing on tax, the treatment of taxpayers by financial institutions, and emerging monies like cryptocurrencies. His close ally, Jacob Rees-Mogg, came second to Morgan in the last election for the post.
George Osborne’s last City minister was sacked from her post as Africa minister by Boris Johnson last week, having supported Jeremy Hunt in the Tory leadership race and has told colleagues she intends to run. A Remainer in 2016, she has studiously avoided causing the sort of controversy other opponents of no-deal on the government payroll revelled in provoking in the dying months of Theresa May’s premiership. Having voted for the withdrawal agreement three times, she may struggle to convince some Labour MPs.
The former International trade minister and MP for Wyre Forest – a member of the committee from 2010 to 2016 – told the NS he will run promising a focus on regulatory reform of the financial system, cryptocurrencies and FinTech, and the government’s proposals on Brexit. Like Baldwin, he voted Remain in 2016 but voted for the withdrawal agreement three times. That – and his sacking from government in January 2018, a month after he was cleared by a Cabinet Office investigation into an incident in which he asked his Commons Secretary to buy him sex toys – could hinder his appeal among Labour MPs.
The former education secretary and MP for Putney – remade on the backbenches as a Remainer rebel – is the early favourite. Another former City minister in George Osborne’s Treasury, she is one of the few Conservative MPs to have endorsed a second referendum and is an avowed opponent of no-deal. She told the NS that her pitch will focus on Brexit and the failure of the Treasury, which she believes is Whitehall’s “great unreformed department”, to drive social mobility. She was approached to run by several sitting members of the committee and is likely best-placed to win over pro-EU MPs on the opposition benches.