So much of our political attention at the moment is focussed on the here and now – we have become accustomed to viewing Westminster through a myopic lens.
Remove the magnifying glass and pause the obsession over moments of crisis, and we see a clearer picture of who in Westminster is poised to gain from the underlying fractures in the Conservative and Labour parties. Rising stars are beginning to shine.
It’s no coincidence that there has been an explosion of new Tory think tanks cropping up in and around Westminster which have become a feeding ground for ones to watch. Tory Reform Group recently announced 14 new parliamentary patrons to speak for the left of the party. Conservative Way Forward, FREER and the CPS’ ‘New Generation’ have all launched as platforms for a revival of the right.
Will Tanner’s Onward and George Freeman’s Big Tent Ideas Festival sit outside of the traditional left-right divide, while the New Blue Book project I am delighted to lead has provided a platform for new policies and big ideas from across the party’s wide ideological spectrum.
These groups prove an acceptance among Conservatives that the party must show signs of life beyond Brexit. They’re also evidence of the background leadership contest taking place, with a shortlist of aspirational Tory MPs leading the groups – Michael Gove, Ruth Davidson, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson’s names are all over them.
These groups also clearly indicate the Tories on the up. Three names principally spring to mind. First, Kemi Badenoch. Elected in 2017 with a huge majority in Saffron Walden, she features in upcoming policy papers for CPS New Generation and Onward. Promoted to Party Vice-Chair for Candidates in January, her stock is rising among a wider base than just the Tory Brexiteers who already revere her.
With Jeremy Corbyn’s grip on the party iron-tight, there has been no pressing need to freshen up Labour’s appeal
Then take a look at Ben Bradley, who was appointed as Party Vice-Chair for Youth in the same reshuffle. With a majority of narrowly over 1,000 in Mansfield, he will be a key Labour target at the next election. But in the meantime, the party has invested hugely into his efforts to connect with younger voters.
Third, Bim Afolami, whose stock continues to rise. His name is across a whole host of new Tory thinking, as proof of his ability to both generate new policy ideas and articulate them. He is among the best and brightest of the new Conservative intake, and alongside Badenoch and Bradley we’ll hear an awful lot more from these Conservative rising stars in future.
Labour has shown little sign of undertaking a similar ideological revival. With Corbyn’s grip on the party iron-tight for now, there has been no pressing need to freshen up Labour’s appeal. But as he fails to close the gap with May on who voters think would make the best PM, and the Tories tick over 40% in Westminster voting intention polls, a question lingers – who could eventually replace him?
In the Corbyn wing of the party, talent is being nurtured for future prominent roles. First, Laura Pidcock, the firebrand North West Durham MP who is one of Mr Corbyn’s most vocal supporters in Parliament and online, has shown no fear of controversy after saying she could never be friends with a Tory.
Second, Cat Smith who worked for Corbyn in the past and was one of the 36 Labour MPs to nominate him as a candidate in the 2015 leadership election. Consistently promoted by the Labour leader, she now sits in the Shadow Cabinet and is tipped for future success beyond her current role as Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons/
Ashton-under-Lyne MP Angela Rayner, Shadow Secretary of State for Education since July 2016 is not an avowed member of the Jeremy Corbyn fan club, but she is ideologically flexible enough to appeal to the hard left wing of the Labour Party.
While confusion reigns at the top of the shop, it’s reassuring to see rising stars are being nurtured in both parties.