Boris Johnson’s Tory opponents seek refuge as select committee chairs

Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark are among those seeking new power bases as Tory resistance to the government takes shape.

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One of the ways in which Jeremy Corbyn’s internal opponents reconciled themselves to his leadership – or didn’t – was to seek election as the chairs of select committees. Under any other Labour leader, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn and Rachel Reeves all might have hoped for shadow cabinet positions. Instead, by 2017, all three were chairing committees.

Now, with Boris Johnson as unassailable as Corbyn was in 2017, the pattern is repeating itself on the government benches. Big names who cannot, and will not, win preferment from the Prime Minister are seeking alternative power bases on committees. 

The most notable of all is Jeremy Hunt, who tells the Times this evening that he will run for the chairmanship of the health select committee  – an admission that a cabinet post will not be forthcoming after his defeat to Johnson in the leadership election and his rejection of the post of defence secretary in July. Conservative MPs tell me he has pitched himself as a “critical friend” of the government in text messages seeking their suport. 

I also understand that Greg Clark, the former business secretary, who had the Tory whip suspended after voting to prevent a no-deal Brexit in September, has been canvassing support for a tilt at the chairmanship of the science and technology committee. Mel Stride, who was sacked as leader of the House of Commons on Johnson’s first day in office, was elected Treasury select committee chair in October.

All, to varying degrees, are critical of Johnson and his approach to Brexit. Triumphant as he is now, the resistance to the Prime Minister is already taking shape.

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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