Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
17 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 11:22am

Evening Call: Boris Johnson makes peers, avoids reshuffle, and plots boundary changes

By Jonn Elledge

One of the few comforts of the election night, for those who didn’t back the winning side, came from Richmond Park. Dominic Raab survived a strong Lib Dem challenge in Esher; in Chingford, Iain Duncan Smith clung on. But in Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith – a man who had already lost the seat once before, in the unnecessary by-election he called in 2016, a mere seven months after London as a whole had firmly rejected his bid to become mayor – lost, by eight points. “They can’t take that away from us,” I tweeted the next day.

Well guess what: they’ve found a way to take it away from us. A kite-flying exercise in the Telegraph earlier this week suggests that he’s to be elevated to the Lords, putting him in the legislature for life, ostensibly so that he can keep doing his job as environment minister.

Goldsmith’s peerage, to be fair, has yet to be confirmed. One that has been is that of Nicky Morgan, who announced in October she would not be standing again as an MP so that she could “be at home far more”, but has now been gifted a life peerage so that she can remain Culture Secretary. A life peerage, of course, lasts a lifetime, which raises questions about her statement that she “can’t commit to another five-year term”. But there we are.

The purpose of these appointments seems to be to keep the post-election, pre-Christmas reshuffle as simple as possible – a more extensive one is expected to follow in February, once Britain has left the European Union. But this strategy raises uncomfortable questions about exactly how democratic British democracy is. To keep Morgan in a job for the next two months, the government is giving her legislative powers for life.

Doing the same for Goldsmith – a man who, unlike Morgan, has just been explicitly rejected by the electorate – would be even worse, and would send a signal that, when it comes to the right sort of chap, the views of the voters don’t actually matter. Perhaps – this is speculation – that’s why the widely trailed move has yet to be confirmed. I would never claim to be in touch with the mood of the electorate, but it must be at least possible that “Handing a posh bloke who the voters just sacked a well-paid job for life” is the sort of thing that doesn’t go down well in Workington or Bishop Auckland. We shall see.

Another balloon being floated seems to raise questions about exactly how much democracy the new government actually wants. Word is, it’s also planning to revive the long-lost Tory plan to reduce the number of MPs in the Commons from 650 to 600.

This has been on the Tory wish list for a long time, on the shaky grounds that the existing boundaries provide an unfair bias towards Labour. It’s not clear that argument still stacks up in a world in which the Tories won 56 per cent of the seats on 44 per cent of the vote, compared to 31 and 32 per cent respectively for Labour. And that’s before we get to questions about whether MPs will be willing to vote themselves out of a job.

Good day for…

Confirmation bias. Today I made my own contribution to the flood of blogs in the sub-genre best described as, “Why the 2019 election result shows that I have been right all along”.

My argument concerns the changing demographics of towns in the north of England, and Britain’s internal brain drain: essentially, the lack of graduate jobs in many of these places means that a lot of young people leave at 18 and never come back, with a knock-on effect on their politics. You can read it here.

Bad day for…

Public dignity. Patrick reports that Jeremy Corbyn was confronted in Portcullis House this afternoon by Mary Creagh, the recently unseated Labour MP for Wakefield, “in full view of onlookers”.

The full PLP is meeting tonight at 6pm. This won’t be the last of today’s Labour bloodletting.

Quote of the day

“These guys really don’t like democracy.”

Zac Goldsmith, the ex-MP for Richmond Park, tweeting on Saturday, in response to the news that Stormzy, Lily Allen and other assorted celebs had condemned Boris Johnson’s win. I mean, this stuff writes itself really, doesn’t it?

Everybody’s talking about…

The ill-considered decision by the Jewish Chronicle – a newspaper which has been one of the strongest voices against anti-Semitism – to publish a column by Melanie Phillips under the cringeworthy title, “Don’t fall for bogus claims of ‘Islamophobia’.”

A letter from the editor argued that the piece “reflects an argument about the origins and utility of the notion of Islamophobia, as opposed to anti-Muslim bigotry”. Hmm.

Everybody should be talking about…

The consequences of the new Tory majority. Today, George Grylls noted one that I’d not spotted before: parliament will no longer receive regular updates from Britain’s negotiators with the EU, severely weakening the legislature’s chances to scrutinise the executive. Bodes well.


Questions? Comments? Email me.

Evening Call is a free newsletter published every day at 5pm. You can sign up here.

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action