Last year’s general election was a sweet one for the Conservatives. The party achieved its biggest majority at Westminster since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 general election victory. But two of the most prominent Tory MPs from the last Parliament are not to be found in the House of Commons this time around.
Neither Zac Goldsmith nor Nicky Morgan were sent back to the Commons as representatives by voters from their respective constituencies of Richmond Park and Loughborough. In fact, Goldsmith was rejected by his constituents, who instead opted to give Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney a 7,766 vote majority. Morgan, on the other hand, did not stand for re-election as an MP last December and so also saw herself replaced.
But despite being replaced as MPs, both initially still managed to hold onto government positions. This is because they were both awarded peerages by Boris Johnson and so could serve in government while being members of the House of Lords.
Following the election, Morgan continued to serve as Culture Secretary while Goldsmith stayed on as both a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Department for International Development (DFID) minister. Morgan has since been replaced as Culture Secretary by Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden, in this week’s Cabinet reshuffle. But Goldsmith has since seen himself become a minister in yet another government department. Not only has he held onto his positions as both a Defra and DFID minister, he has also become a Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister.
I wasn’t very surprised to see the Prime Minister use the House of Lords to ensure Morgan and Goldsmith could continue to occupy government positions. I’ve long been fascinated by the Prime Minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings and think it’s a tactic that shouldn’t be unexpected from a Prime Minister taking advice from him.
To get what I mean, you need only look back to 2014 when Cummings gave a speech at an event organised by the IPPR think tank. Having listened to it prior to the general election taking place, I already understood a potential reason behind why Johnson would put Morgan and Goldsmith in the Lords so soon after his landmark victory.
In the speech, Cummings argues that the Prime Minister should be able to appoint whoever he wants as a minister and that putting people in the Lords would be a simple mechanism by which to achieve this.
“I understand, having talked to some old-timers in the House of Lords, that you could maybe do this very, very quickly. So that would be on my to-do list if I ever manage to successfully get control of Number 10,” he said. These words were met with laughter from the audience at the time. I do wonder if those who laughed are still laughing today.
It would hardly be surprising to see Johnson use this tactic more often as Prime Minister while Cummings continues to have his ear.