MPs from the One Nation caucus of self-styled Conservative moderates are celebrating victory – albeit not in the race to succeed Theresa May. Simon Hoare, the group’s preferred candidate, has been elected chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs select committee.
Hoare, who quit as Sajid Javid’s parliamentary private secretary in order to run for the post, won handily in the first round, with 239 of 444 votes. His nearest challenger, the hard Brexiteer Maria Caulfield, won 139. Mark Pritchard, another opponent of the withdrawal agreement, got 59.
As a Remainer, Hoare was always best-placed to win the votes of Labour MPs, who are the crucial swing electorate in any contest for a Tory-held committee chairmanship. Opposition members informally canvassed support for his candidacy, and it is their votes that are likely to have got him over the line. But some members of the One Nation group believe his victory proves a rather different point: that they have real and significant power as an organised faction.
What Conservative Remainers have always lacked is the sort of shadow whipping operation that the European Research Group had used to such devastating effect. There are high hopes that the 60-strong One Nation group can provide the operational framework for something similar under a Boris Johnson premiership or worse. Some have taken Hoare’s victory as evidence that it could work. “It’s a testament to our power as a caucus,” says one member who has made their peace with the idea of Johnson as prime minister.
Part of the reason that optimists in the group are more sanguine about the looming prospect of a Johnson government than one might expect is their expectation that, as long as it does not have a majority, they will be able to keep it on a sensible course through force of numbers. In Hoare’s victory they see the “early signs” of such a strategy paying dividends. Its pessimists are less sure. They point to the fact that the ERG vote, though cumulatively less than Johnson’s, was split between Caulfield and Pritchard. Many of the Tory MPs who voted for the losing candidates are supporting Johnson, too. And ultimately, all 313 would make up his parliamentary party anyway.
So while it may be that today’s result marks the arrival of the One Nation caucus as a group capable of exerting serious pressure on the government, it certainly won’t be alone in doing so – and it doesn’t inevitably follow that they will turn today’s victory into a winning streak