Who's in the chair?

Keith Vaz Image copyright HoC
Image caption A vacancy has arisen, following Keith Vaz's resignation as chair of the Home Affairs Committee

The departure of Keith Vaz means one of Parliament's plum jobs is up for grabs; as he demonstrated, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee commands considerable influence and automatic media attention, and there is already speculation that a number of heavy hitters will go for it.

For now, the acting chair is the Conservative former minister, Tim Loughton (last seen leading Andrea Leadsom's march on Westminster, during the abortive Tory leadership campaign), but under the carve-up which dictates which party has the chairs of which committee, Mr Vaz's long-term replacement must be a Labour MP.

Mentioned in dispatches are Chuka Umunna, who has the advantage of having already being a committee member, and of having proved an effective interrogator at evidence sessions.

And there is some speculation that the former shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, or possibly another former frontbencher, Caroline Flint, might run - although it is unlikely that they would run against each other.

Then there's the small matter of getting elected. Remember that select committee chairs may have to come from a particular party, but they are elected by the whole House of Commons. So if you have three or four candidates from the ranks of Labour MPs, the winner will be the one who appeals most to the Conservatives and, to a lesser extent, the SNP.

Interrogating Brexit

The same factor weighs heavily in calculations about another plum select committee post in play; the chair of the Brexit Committee, which is expected to be set up to monitor the doings of Brexit Secretary David Davis and his newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union.

The assumption is that the Conservatives will not permit Labour to chair such a sensitive committee, but that in turn means that Labour votes could be decisive in choosing which Conservative would then take the chair.

And experience suggests they tend to back the candidate they calculate would cause the government the maximum grief.

At the moment, the rumour mill suggests former Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt might be a candidate, and two other ex-ministers, Anna Soubry and Nick Herbert are also being mentioned in dispatches.

None of them backed "Leave" in the EU Referendum, although a Brexiteer standard bearer will almost certainly emerge. But if Labour MPs want a Brexit Committee chair who would cause trouble for the government, that line up of candidates provides them with the option.

Image copyright HoC
Image caption Keith Vaz chaired the Home Affairs Committee for nine years - this picture shows the committee questioning Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates in 2011

As I write, the details of the Brexit Committee have not been decided (one cunning wheeze would be to allow it to be chaired by the Northern Ireland DUP - guaranteeing a staunch Brexiteer in the chair) and one key issue for the smaller parties is how many members it will have.

Most select committees have 11 members, but so important is the subject matter that there is pressure to expand the Brexit Committee to 13, so that the DUP and the Liberal Democrats can be represented on it.

Then there's the other new committee, to monitor Liam Fox's new Department for International Trade. The speculation is that this will be chaired by an SNP MP, because Theresa May's abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change will, eventually, mean the demise of the DECC Committee, which is one of the two allocated to be chaired by an SNP member.

(Incidentally, the DECC Committee is not dead yet; its members are due to depart this weekend on a trip to San Francisco, being sure, no doubt, to wear some flowers in their hair.)

There are still some voices murmuring that there's no need to create new committees, perhaps because they could turn some existing committees, particularly Foreign Affairs, into a bit of a backwater. But it does look likely that they will spring into being, with members being elected in late October, or even November.

And don't forget that Theresa May created two more vacancies on the Committee corridor, when she promoted Culture Committee Chair Jesse Norman and Science Committee Chair Nicola Blackwood to ministerial office.

So an autumnal orgy of electioneering is certain to hit the Commons.

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