Saturday, 1 March 2014

Our Next European Commissioner And The Return Of Boris

Soon, Prime Minister David Cameron has to make a decision - who to appoint as a member of the European Commission. Unless, of course, someone from the United Kingdom is chosen as Commission President.

Interesting to see the names that the BBC website suggests:

Firstly, we need to consider what a European Commissioner does. Cameron is interested in one of the economic roles - presumably getting someone British to be Commissioner for Economic & Monetary Affairs (hmm, tricky as we don't use the €); Commissioner for Finance; Commissioner for the Internal Market & Services; Commissioner for Trade.

And the Commissioner for X is there to develop policy in that area across the European Union.

Cameron is MP for Witney, in South East England. And there are other South East England MPs in the Cabinet - Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is MP for Maidenhead; Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, is MP for Epsom & Ewell; Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, is MP for Runnymede & Weybridge; Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is MP for the next-door Surrey Heath; Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is MP for neighbouring Surrey South West; and Maria Miller, the Culture, Media & Sport Secretary and Minister for Women & Equalities, is MP for Basingstoke.

Now, they represent their constituents and the nation. There is no sense in which they are meant to represent South East England.

Sometimes there is this idea that whoever is appointed as Commissioner is there to represent the United Kingdom, as a sort-of Brussels equivalent of the Scottish Secretary. Let the other Commissioners get on with their stuff, but the UK is unique. OK, all European Union nations are unique in some sense, but the UK is unique in its own special way. Our Commissioner is there to represent the UK.

Actually, in Brussels it is Cameron and his Government who represent the nation - at meetings of the European Council and the Council of Ministers - while the Commissioners represent the EU as a whole and Members of the European Parliament are there to represent their constituents. If the UK's case is to be made in Brussels on a topic, then Cameron should ensure that whoever is representing us on the Council of Ministers for that issue is well-briefed and puts the case well, while lobbying British MEPs to vote one way.

Secondly, we need to look at who have been our previous Commissioners. The current one is Cathy Ashton, as Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for the Common Foreign & Security Policy. Her predecessors were:

Commissioner Served Previous role in British politics
Chris Soames Jan 1973 - Jan 1977 Lost his seat (Bedford) to Labour at March 1966 general election while Shadow Foreign Secretary
George Thomson Jan 1973 - Jan 1977 Resigned as Shadow Defence Secretary in April 1972
Roy Jenkins Jan 1977 - Jan 1981 Defeated in Labour leadership election of March/April 1976; resigned as Home Secretary in September 1976
Christopher Tugendhat Jan 1977 - Jan 1985 Conservative MP for City of London & Westminster South
Ivor Richard Jan 1981 - Jan 1985 Constituency of Baron's Court abolished in February 1974 general election; defeated by sitting Independent MP for Blyth at that election
Stanley Clinton-Davis Jan 1985 - Jan 1989 Constituency of Hackney Central abolished in June 1983 general election
Arthur Cockfield Jan 1985 - Jan 1989 Resigned as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in September 1984
Leon Brittan Jan 1989 - Sept 1999 Resigned as Trade & Industry Secretary over Westland in January 1986
Bruce Millan Jan 1989 - Jan 1995 Lost his place in Shadow Cabinet in November 1983 election and hence replaced as Shadow Scottish Secretary
Neil Kinnock Jan 1995 - Nov 2004 Led Labour to general election defeats in June 1987 and April 1992
Chris Patten Sept 1999 - Nov 2004 Lost his seat (Bath) to the Liberal Democrats at the 1992 general election while Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Conservative Party Chairman
Peter Mandelson Nov 2004 - Oct 2008 Resigned from Cabinet twice - Trade & Industry Secretary (December 1998) and Northern Ireland Secretary (January 2001)

There is a constant theme here - failure. Ashton is the only person to go straight from the Cabinet to the Commission (having been Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords). Cockfield and Jenkins were both members of the Cabinet when their appointments were announced.

Then there is the collection of Commissioners who have been voted off the Shadow Cabinet, lost their seats in a general election or led their parties to election defeats.

Out of the four names suggested, Lilley is from an earlier era. Mitchell might have sympathy as a wronged man, but a Commission post shouldn't be there as a consolation prize.

Lansley and Paterson are interesting choices, given that they are sitting Cabinet ministers. This is quite contrary to British tradition and feels just so, well, European. A sign that the Commission post is not there for a has-been or a never-was, but for a serving politician.

And the appointment of either of them would enable a mini-reshuffle, which would allow Mitchell to return. Or, given that bigger reshuffles are normally in September, this would pave the way for a more major reshuffle, the last of the coalition this side of the May 2015 general election (of course, if the coalition breaks up, then there would be 5 Conservatives joining the Cabinet).

But there is one name that no-one mentions. Someone who ticks all the boxes.

Step forward, Theresa Villiers, Northern Ireland Secretary and MP for Chipping Barnet.

Villiers began her career at the June 1999 election to the European Parliament, where she topped the Conservative list for London, and was hence the second MEP elected for London. At the June 2004 European election, she was the first MEP elected for London.

During her first term at Brussels/Strasbourg she served on the European Parliament's Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee. Her career there came to an end at the May 2005 general election when she was elected, and in December of that year, Cameron appointed her Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

She has the right sort of background - both at Westminster and Brussels - for an economic portfolio.

There would be a consequence of her appointment - a by-election. The Times has a recent article (£) suggesting that Cameron wants the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to stand for Parliament and/or be Conservative Party Chairman.

Consider this timeline - Villiers is appointed and resigns from the Cabinet and as an MP in September. In the ensuing reshuffle, Johnson becomes Party Chairman and is returned to Parliament in the autumn in the Chipping Barnet by-election.

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