As parliament goes into recess again, how have Devon’s 12 MPs performed since our bleak midwinter election? Dumbledrone buzzes around the county to take a look at which voices are reaching Westminster from Devon.
Neil Parish of Tiverton and Honiton continues to make his heaviest contributions in the areas of agriculture and food, and took up the role of chair of the environment, food and rural affairs committee. He spoke in both the trade and agriculture bill debates against a US trade deal threatening our food and welfare standards, citing the importance of a level playing field for our farmers and food producers, and has called for constituents’ voices to be heard in trade debates.
As a farmer, he knows this subject well and understands the threat that his party’s brave new world brings to his industry. All credit to Parish for using his expertise to push back on elements in this bill and show willingness to work cross-party to ensure better legislation. But are his personal interests or those of his constituents the major lever behind these small acts of rebellion? He sadly wasn’t concerned about protecting the interests of the NHS in the 20 July vote. Parish, along with Simon Jupp (East Devon), seemed more exercised by the need to retain BBC regional politics’ coverage. That said, Parish is one to watch next term!
Johnny Mercer, Plymouth, Moor View’s little soldier boy, continues to toe the party line with barely a hint of independent thought. As Minister for Defence People and Veterans, his parliamentary contributions have been almost exclusively in relation to that subject matter. A glance through his social media also begs the question whether his attention can be caught by any non-military issues. Mercer has just become a father again, so look out for paternity rights or early years care moving into his sights in the next couple of years.
Across the city, in Sutton & Devonport, Luke Pollard was appointed Shadow DEFRA Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) in January and retains that role under Keir Starmer. He has committed to fighting for food security and has spoken about the need for support for food banks, recognising the increased hardship currently being felt in many communities, including inner-city Plymouth.
In South West Devon, freshly-knighted Sir Gary Streeter, has been pouring his energies into setting up the Great South West All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), making a pitch for the levelling up agenda to notice our region. He supported Neil Parish’s welfare and standards amendment to the agriculture bill, though elsewhere he has suggested that it is their commitment to sustainability that will secure farmers’ futures, rather than a level playing field. Beyond that, he has obligingly parroted the refrain to “move on” from the Cummings lockdown scandal and dismissed the need to extend the transition period and focus on the pandemic, flippantly telling constituents he prefers to “crack on with it”. We need have no fear, Sir Gary told one correspondent, as EU deals are usually agreed at the eleventh hour; but in a perfect piece of cognitive dissonance, he has conceded that businesses need three months to prepare. We’ll certainly check in again on 30 September. Meanwhile, Gary just popped up to blame our world-beating Covid-19 deaths on our Europe-beating obesity, which is a bit rich in the context of the tons of unhealthy food coming our way if the US gets the deal it wants.
Torridge & West Devon’s bombastic Geoffrey Cox QC has been somewhat quieter in 2020 having made but a single spoken contribution in the house and just three written questions, paltry even by his self-absorbed standards. In fairness, perhaps most of us would keep our heads down if moved aside in favour of Suella Braverman. The venerable QC managed 80 per cent attendance at votes, though that’s probably much easier done when one’s second job is not in session. He did manage to earn a cool £30,000 lawyering in the two weeks of March before lockdown began, however. Nice.
Exeter’s Ben Bradshaw doubtless feels more comfortable in the new Starmer-led Labour Party. Having spoken as early as December 2016 on the question of Russian interference in our democratic processes, he will hope to be vindicated by the revelations in the Russia report. It is also interesting, with hindsight, to reflect on Bradshaw’s question posed on 27 January in the 5G and Huawei debate: “Can the Minister assure me that this decision, the one on the digital tax and all the other important decisions facing our country will be based on what is in our national interest and not on threats and bullying from the White House?” Mr Trump seems confident he had a hand in the Huawei decision, so that seems to answer that one.
Anthony Mangnall was elected in December to Sarah Wollaston’s Totnes seat and so far has proved himself to be little more than a yes-man. Constituents who shared letters with the author were angered to receive responses from the ‘Cummings handbook’ with no tailoring to the specifics of the constituency. However, he has made 37 spoken and 69 written contributions in his short career, more than many of our veteran MPs. This flurry of activity may serve as a useful crash course on the area and communities he represents. He might have some bridges to mend after his clanger of a template email with its “insert in case of bereavement” paragraph.
East Devon’s Simon Jupp has shown his party loyalty by speaking in favour of Robert Jenrick’s intervention in the Westferry planning decision and roundly supporting the decision to fold the department for International Trade and Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He has advocated strongly for the tourism industry in his constituency and, as a former journalist, has campaigned against cuts to BBC local politics’ coverage. Despite this flicker of resistance, he doesn’t seem ripe turf for rebellion.
The final new kid on the block, North Devon’s Selaine Saxby, spoke twice in agriculture bill debates: once to say almost nothing about farming, and the second time at least raising concerns from her farmer constituents. After all that, she failed to vote with Parish, Jupp and Streeter and has remained totally loyal to the party whip, despite any impression she may have given to the contrary on her twitter feed. In agreeing with Maria Caulfield, she seemed to be saying that her vote against the Labour NHS amendment indicated that she would never vote for the NHS to be part of a trade deal. Hmm. She had one last flourish when she fed Housing Minister, Chris Pincher, a nice question so he could crow about the government’s housebuildng plans.
Kevin Foster for Torbay is now a junior Home Office minister and as such his appearances in the commons are dominated by immigration matters and his voting pattern 100 per cent poodle. Locally he seems more adept than some MPs at communicating how government measures are directly impacting his constituency, boasting on his website the numbers supported by bailouts. However, in one of Devon’s more deprived areas it is unclear how he is representing those who have fallen through the cracks. His handling of his grilling by Diane Abbot and Stuart McDonald about the failure to adequately resolve the Windrush scandal is a masterclass in underperformance.
Mel Stride for Central Devon has been reappointed as chair of the treasury select committee and has focused his contributions in the house to matters relating to small business and Covid-19 support schemes such as furlough. Despite a heavily rural constituency, he was not amongst the agriculture bill rebels and he failed to turn up for this week’s trade bill debate. There is some disquiet that his position on the treasury committee puts him in charge of scrutinising the much criticised loan charge policy, of which he was an architect, but he does at least appear to be using his chairship to press for support for ‘the excluded’ – people whose employment or business status precludes them from benefiting from the government bailout schemes.
As for Newton Abbot’s Anne Marie Morris, has anyone seen her? Did she get herself locked in a Dawlish beach hut at the start of lockdown? She made no spoken contributions to the house between early March and early July and only very occasional written questions, and a weekly blog. Constituents are used to poor responsiveness to their letters (any replies being cursory at best), so nobody has really noticed. But do check your garden sheds and other outbuildings in case she’s gone in for a nap and got stuck.