Today truly marks the end of May… Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on how the local Conservative MP has placed his cards on the table in a gamble with his Commons career
Chris Philp, Croydon South’s Tory MP, has resigned as the Conservative Party’s vice-chairman responsible for policy.
Yeah, we know: what Conservative Party policy?
Philp, however, has not quit the post on any point of principle over the absence of Tory activity outside the sphere of Brexit. He has done so in order to jump headlong into the latest manifestation of the divisive issue: the Conservative leadership contest.
Philp wants to campaign openly for Sajid Javid to be the next Tory leader.
Philp worked closely with Javid when he was a lowly bag carrier at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is a helpful endorsement for Javid to have. If you can stand working in a demeaning reporting line relationship, then that someone can’t be all bad.
Philp tweeted his decision: “I’ve stepped down as Conservative Vice Chairman today so I can campaign for @sajidjavid to be the next Prime Minsiter [sic]. I have seen him in action as a highly effective Minister. I believe he can unite the country. His personal journey from poverty to prosperity is inspirational.”
The key role of a Tory MP is to vote for the winner, rather than to choose the best candidate for the job. The MP’s parliamentary career prospects depend on it. Philp, therefore, has staked his own parliamentary career on Javid.
Anyone who has been following the Thatcher documentary series on BBC2 will be reminded of those days 40 years ago when the grocer’s daughter from Grantham was, as her former advisor Michael Dobbs puts it, elected by accident as the leader of the Tory Party. The leadership election process has been updated somewhat since then, but as the previous Tory “contest” in 2016 demonstrated, it is hardly a process in which to have much faith.
The party’s leadership process now sees the 313 Tory MPs decide on two candidates, whose names will then be put before local Conservative associations’ members. Thus we have a situation where, for the first time that the country’s history, our Prime Minister will be chosen by 100,000 predominantly male, white, elderly (average age: 57), mainly Brexit-supporting Tory party members.
Philp may well have chosen Javid on merit, rather than after considering his own future job prospects. Or maybe he thinks the outsider will be a winner.
The Conservative Home website yesterday placed Javid fifth in a league table showing the number of MPs supporting them, so well short of the top two required to go into the membership voting round.
Philp and only 13 other MPs have declared for Javid.
The other pledge totals are: Hunt 29, Gove 26, Johnson 26, Raab 22… Hancock 11. Endearingly, Rory Stewart is still seeking endorsements in Lewisham Market and Kew Gardens.
But all such public declarations by politicians should always carry a health warning: MPs may not vote for who they say they are going to vote for.
Conservative MPs are probably the most slippery electorate in the world.
Talking of slipping, Javid has slipped very badly in the leadership betting markets (always a good indicator of where the clever Tory money is going), from 4/1 to 25/1. We are assured by Bert, the bloke behind the counter in the William Hill branch on the high street, that this was before Philp announced his backing, and not afterwards.
Philp may well have taken the view that he was in any case on borrowed time as the party’s policy “guru”, with Theresa Mayhem (who will have approved his appointment) about to leave No10. The new leader will want to have their own “team”.
Being party vice-chair gave Philp a raised TV profile that many Croydon South residents say he has used well as an assured performer.
His business expertise in lending to lower quality home-builders has led Philp to specialise a lot on housing policy, coming up with some controversial suggestions. Back in 2017, his report for the Centre for Policy Studies, a right-wing think tank, entitled Homes For Everyone, was a rag-bag mix of stiff regulatory and Thatcherite free market proposals.
In a populist appeal to nationhood, Philp sought to impose strict quotas on foreign buyers of homes. He backed a cautious right-to-buy approach for private tenants.
Frighteningly, Philp also wanted to weaken further the obligation on house-builders to subsidise “affordable” housing, with a doubling in the exemption from a affordable housing requirement for developments, so that they would only have to provide (the misleadingly titled) “affordable” homes in schemes of 20 units or more, rather than the current 10.
Philp also wanted to replicate some of the worse elements of permitted development that has created Croydon’s slums of the future, with offices converted to flats. Philp urged the creation of “Pink Zones”, where development will be automatically approved within certain parameters.
So maybe it’s good for Croydon, and the country, that Philp no longer has a formal input into Tory policy.
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