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23 October 2019

Former Cabinet minister Mel Stride wins low-energy race for Treasury Committee chair

A looming election means Stride is likely to have a short tenure, and his real challenge will be retaining his powerful role in the next Parliament. 

By Patrick Maguire

Former Cabinet minister Mel Stride has been elected the new chair of the Treasury Select Committee, one of the most powerful backbench jobs in Parliament. 

Stride, a former Treasury minister who served briefly as leader of the House of Commons in the dying months of Theresa May’s government, won a clear victory over three other Conservative MPs: former City minister Harriett Baldwin, former international trade minister Mark Garnier, and backbencher Kevin Hollinrake. 

In the first round of voting, Stride finished a clear first, with 237 votes out of the 512 MPs who turned out. There was one spoilt ballot. 

Hollinrake was second with 166, with Baldwin on 62 and Garnier on 46. 

The lion’s share of Garnier’s second preferences then went to Stride, who easily surpassed the 256 quota for election. He finished with 263, a vindication of what rivals had dubbed a quietly effective “submarine” campaign. 

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The Central Devon MP’s victory is particularly notable given how recently he held office as a relatively high-profile minister, both within Cabinet and at the Treasury.  Stride is also a hate figure for campaigners against HMRC’s controversial loan charge, an issue on which several high-profile Conservative backbenchers are outspoken campaigners. “Mel Stride was the only candidate who people emailed us to lobby against,” says one Tory source. Opposition MPs in particular usually favour prospective committee chairs who they believe will make life difficult for the government. 

Most assumed that dynamic would favour Baldwin, a prominent supporter of Jeremy Hunt whose campaign made much of her sacking by Boris Johnson.

Instead, a big chunk of Labour votes appear to have gone to Hollinrake, who has never held a full ministerial role. 

What does the result tell us? In truth, very little: the prospect of an imminent dissolution and election means the chair is likely to have a very short tenure. Bigger names who had declared their intention to run, namely former Cabinet ministers Greg Clark, David Gauke, and Justine Greening, were unable to run after losing the Tory whip last month. Nor were MPs particularly invested in a campaign that was by normal standards low stakes and low energy. 

Stride’s real challenge, therefore, will be retaining the chairmanship in the next Parliament, when the field is likely to be broader and the election more hotly contested. Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister and chairman of the European Research Group, has already suggested he will stand.