What now for Northamptonshire’s Conservative MPs?
As Rishi Sunak takes the PM job, are the county’s MPs heading for the political wilderness?
By Sarah Ward
It has been a dizzying few days/weeks/months in Westminster politics. Amid the recent swirl of leadership elections, job re-shuffles, sackings, failed economic policies and u-turns, a number of the county’s seven Conservative MPs have been prominent in the action.
According to the national newspapers current Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris had been heavily involved in the plot to get disgraced former PM Boris Johnson back into number ten, with Corby and Wellingborough’s Tom Pursglove and Peter Bone publicly backing Johnson as the best politician to lead the Conservative Party.
But now that their hoped for return of Johnson is dead in the water and the centrist Sunak is in charge of the country, will the career ascensions which happened to several of the county’s MPs since Brexit, come to a halt?
We take a look at what’s happened to each of them since the 2016 referendum and what the future looks like now.
Chris Heaton Harris - Daventry
The Daventry MP was promoted to the Northern Ireland Secretary in September by Liz Truss after she won the first leadership race against Sunak.
Before that he had been appointed by Boris Johnson to the cabinet position of chief whip (ensuring the MPs vote in line with the Conservative Party) and since July 2016 the prominent Brexiteer and former chair of the right-wing European Research Group, has been rising up the ranks.
As reported by the Sun on Sunday, Heaton-Harris was heavily involved in the plan to reappoint Johnson as the PM and he thanked the Boris backers profusely in their WhatsApp group for their support and said Johnson would be on the ballot to stand again. This was before Johnson decided not to go for it.
It remains to be seen whether his backing of a second return by Boris will be punished by Sunak with a demotion from his Northern Ireland role. However he has been doing some tough talking in his role and says that if the Northern Ireland executive does not reconvene by this Friday he will call an election.
Peter Bone - Wellingborough
The long-serving Wellingborough MP, who has sat on the back benches since 2005, was promoted to a government position by Johnson, this summer, amid the chaos of resignations.
He was made deputy leader of the house but was stood down by Liz Truss when she was elected in September.
He came out last week as a Boris backer, he wrote a comment piece in the Daily Express at the weekend claiming:
“What the country desperately needs is a Prime Minister with experience, ability and prestige. Only Boris has those criteria.”
So he must be disappointed that his favoured candidate has ruled himself out of the race.
It is unlikely that his political ideologies will secure him favour with Rishi Sunak. A Rushden town council election in his constituency this Thursday will be an indication of how his party is faring with the electors. A Conservative stronghold, Bone has been out knocking doors this weekend.
A local rival told us: “All three main parties are giving it a good go. Could be close. Bone won't want to lose.”
Andrea Leadsom - South Northamptonshire
Since her punt for the Tory leadership against Theresa May back in 2016, Brexiteer Leadsom has held two cabinet positions and has had a number of political moments, including resigning in protest about Theresa’s May’s proposed Brexit Bill and also standing once again to replace May in 2019.
She was last in cabinet as business secretary in 2020, but left when Johnson reshuffled his cabinet.
She ran Penny Mordaunt's leadership election campaign this summer and has backed her again this past week.
As an experienced minister, she may find herself given a government role by Sunak.
Michael Ellis - Northampton North
Since his election in 2010, the former barrister has risen steadily through the ranks of government and in September was made attorney general by Liz Truss, after the former holder of the role Suella Braverman was promoted to Home Secretary.
Quiet in his opinions of his political colleagues, he may be safe in the role, however he may suffer as the defender of Boris Johnson at the despatch box during the various scandals that engulfed the former PM.
Andrew Lewer - Northampton South
A backbencher since his election in 2015 Lewer was the only one of the county’s seven MPs to come out early and back Sunak in the leadership race.
However, without any government experience or known links to Sunak’s camp, it is unlikely he will find a position in Sunak’s government.
Tom Pursglove - Corby and East Northants
Elected in 2015, the former Wellingborough councillor and one of the youngest MPs to ever be elected, was given his first rung on the government ladder in 2019 with a position as an assistant whip.
He then worked closely with former Home secretary Priti Patel and backed her immigration strategy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Under Truss’s very short government he kept his immigration role in the home office.
He was a backer of Johnson’s return to the premiership, but yesterday lunchtime, when it looked like Sunak’s premiership was nailed on, Pursglove came out in support of Rishi.
It is uncertain whether the more moderate Sunak will have a place for Pursglove in the home office and he may return to the back benches.
Read about his close political friendship with Peter Bone here
Phillip Hollobone - Kettering
The ardent Brexiteer has not been awarded a government job since his election in 2005.
It is very unlikely that under Sunak that situation will change. Last week before her resignation, Hollobone said he was a supporter of Liz Truss and pointed to a small group of former ministers who were trying to bring her down.
We contacted all of the county’s seven MPs yesterday for a comment about the leadership election and how their party has been behaving in recent weeks. Not one responded.
Read our piece from earlier this year about how accessible Northamptonshire’s MPs are to the media and public.
Earlier this month we wrote a piece about some reviews of domestic killings which had not been published, despite being signed off by the home office.
It is the duty of the area’s Community Safety Partnership to publish the reports.
The CSP meets in private and does not publish its minutes, unlike other areas.
Since our article, North Northamptonshire Council has now put a table of all of the domestic homicide reviews currently taking place on its website, however it has not provided us with a copy of finalised reports as originally suggested.
We will continue to request these reports, which should set out learnings from the deaths and make recommendations to public bodies about changes to procedure.
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