My pick of the 2010 intake of MPs
A year on from the last election, how are the denizens of Westminster shaping up? I thought this would be a good moment to take stock of the rising (and falling) stars of the Commons. This is my own very subjective view of the new Commons.
Episode 1: The new intake.
The new MP who has made the single biggest impact on me is David Nuttall - the Conservative solicitor who won Bury North. Part of my job involves reporting the Friday sittings of the Commons, when private members bills are debated - and Mr Nuttall has emerged as an enthusiastic player of the tactical games played by a group of Conservative back-benchers to kill off many of those bills (they see it as an exercise in legislative hygiene, stopping what they see as unnecessary and burdensome bills). Already Mr Nuttall has made several of the longest backbench speeches - post traumatic stress prevents me from researching the exact figures - and they haunt my dreams. I fear my punishment for my many sins in the next life will be to spend eternity listening to him talking out a bill at second reading. He was also declared the most rebellious member of the Tories' new intake by the Conservative Home website.
In a quality field on the Labour side Stella Creasy has nosed ahead. She looks an impressive parliamentarian. She argued for curbs on "legal loan sharks", in an intelligent and assured speech in a backbench debate in February - but her best moment came when she rounded on the Government when it declined to support her. She has not dropped the campaign either - returning to the subject in the Budget debate. And after that, a lot of good judges marked her out as one to watch.
Over on the Committee Corridor Labour ex-City of London solicitor Chuka Umanna has emerged as an effective inquisitor in the difficult, rather techie environment of the Treasury Committee. He has rapidly mastered the art of making populist points during debates on high economic and financial policy - and as PPS, (parliamentary bag carrier) to his Leader, Ed Miliband, he is already close to the leadership.
The star of the Lib Dem intake is Julian Huppert who seems to be filling the Commons niche vacated by his defeated colleague Dr Evan Harris - the scientist and civil libertarian (he's a "computational biologist" which sounds impressively arcane). Leaving aside the japes about fellows of Clare College becoming MP for Cambridge, he is super-active, sitting on two select committees as well as the committee scrutinising the Draft Defamation Bill (to sort out the libel laws) while still managing to be almost omnipresent in the Chamber.
Then there's Rory Stewart the glamorous former soldier and diplomat who is already the subject of a considerable body of parliamentary folklore. He appeared on last year's BOOKtalk summer special, and seemed to have an offbeat, but well thought out opinion on... everything. My favourite Stewart anecdote has him chatting to a clerk on a select committee, who mentioned he was writing a thesis about an Elizabethan poet. On asking which one, Mr Stewart was told the subject was very obscure - the name was then named, and our hero promptly quoted a couple of stanzas. Mr Stewart's political problem is that in Westminster, the term "original thinker" is not a compliment, and independent judgement is often considered a vice, not a virtue.
Which brings me to Dr Sarah Wollaston the GP who won Totnes after being selected in an open primary contest, which allowed local voters a say in choosing their Conservative candidate. She has emerged as a trenchant critic of the Government's Health and Social Care Bill, asked, rather innocently, asked if she could be put on the Public Bill Committee considering it, because she had a couple of amendments in mind, and complained when she was kept off. Perhaps her subsequent show of independent-mindedness is one reason the Government seems to have cooled on its promise in the Coalition Agreement, to find ways to encourage more primaries?
Another Doctor, Caroline Lucas, had stardom thrust upon her as soon as she became the first Green MP. Others might then have floundered as they tried to juggle being a one-person party with the normal trials of a parliamentary newcomer, but she has made a consistent impact. The Commons listens when she speaks, a courtesy not always extended to lone voices, and her debate on reforming the workings of the House, drawing on her experience as a Euro-MP, was positive and well-attended.
In the next episode, I'll look at old lags doing well in the new parliament