Last night’s Portillo Moments – reviewed

From Jacob Rees-Mogg to Penny Mordaunt, here are the political scalps who will – and won’t – be missed.

Gareth Roberts

Topics Politics UK

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There’s no justice in General Elections. It was depressing to see genuinely hard-working and effective Conservative MPs like Ben Bradley and Miriam Cates lose their seats last night. And it was beyond frustrating that some truly dismal Tories like Jeremy Hunt, Alicia Kearns and Caroline Nokes held on to theirs.

Nonetheless, the Tory columbarium is now filled up. And it is mostly filled up with characters who thoroughly deserved their routing.

For starters, it’s farewell to Johnny Mercer, formerly veterans’ affairs minister and MP for Plymouth Moor View. He’s the towering genius who described sacking late philosopher Roger Scruton from his government advisory job in 2019 as ‘a no brainer’. ‘Let’s not take our time on this’, he said, gunning for Scruton to be fired after a New Statesman journalist misrepresented him as a racist. Not exactly the kind of upstanding conduct you’d want or expect from a member of parliament.

Former education secretary Gillian Keegan is also out, losing her Chichester seat to the Liberal Democrats. But she did always give the impression of wanting to be somewhere else, anyway. Perhaps under a tree in the garden with a nice glass of wine, or curled up on the settee watching Midsomer Murders while picking at a bowl of salted almonds. Her one departure from her simperingly bland expression was an astonishing hot-mic outburst last year, effing and jeffing to ITV after she thought the interview was over. Her gripe centred on how nobody was thanking her enough for preventing slabs of concrete dropping on the heads of children, amid last summer’s reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete crisis. Though you’d think that was a base-level requirement for an education minister.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, unseated in North East Somerset and Hanham, will surely be missed for his ability to rile up all the right people. He is one of those bugbears who sends the already frothing, chronically online kind of person into even more sudsier lathers – despite the fact he doesn’t actually do anything and is punctiliously polite. His wood-panelled public image, double-barrelled name and inherited wealth really jiggers the wires of those who simultaneously like to pretend that it’s still 1928, while accusing other people of being stuck in 1928.

Former defence secretary Grant Shapps is another significant loss, kicked out of Welwyn Hatfield by Labour. Shapps is, in many ways, the archetype of the last 14 years of Tory government. He is ineffective and ineffectual, seemingly barely there. He may be outwardly ‘nice’, but has a strange personal history. Who remembers him running a get-rich-quick investment scheme under an alias while an MP in 2005? He is yet another hate figure for people who like to fulminate on the socials, but makes an unlikely target of Vordermanite fury. Because he is not evil, simply useless.

At least nobody will ever forget House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, turfed out of her Portsmouth North seat by Labour last night. Mordaunt, much like Boris Johnson, is notable chiefly for seeming to be one thing (a big, blonde, feel-good right-winger) while actually being another (a bumbling Blairite who could fit, equally ineffectually, into any of the three main parties). Her most notable achievements will go down as co-writing a terrible book and holding a big sword during the king’s coronation.

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker’s appeal was somewhat more narrow. He was popular with that portion of the electorate who likes to arrange Star Wars figurines in the order in which they appear in the films. An enthusiastic backer of Brexit, he managed to make that huge historic moment – and his own rebellion against Theresa May in 2018 over her unsuccessful Brexit policy – seem as vitally, viscerally exciting as a middling episode of Terry and June.

The biggest Tory name to lose was, of course, Liz Truss. She had the honour of adding to her extraordinary list of achievements the feat of completely destroying her huge majority of almost 25,000 votes in South West Norfolk. The future of her career now rests on a stint in the Strictly ballroom.

But my biggest regret of the night, and one of the most unexpected results, was actually a Labour loss. The defenestration of Jonathan Ashworth – a second-tier Grange Hill lad, the Pogo Patterson or Gonch Gardner of parliament – has robbed us of years of juicy banter. Hopefully, he can be parachuted into a safe Labour seat at the earliest by-election opportunity.

Still, we can’t stay sad for long. There are now tons of new Labour MPs, unfamiliar names to us, but very soon to crash into our consciousness. A great deal of them are bound to amuse.

Gareth Roberts is a screenwriter and novelist, best known for his work on Doctor Who.

Pictures by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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