The system of Select Committee Chair elections requires candidates to appeal across party lines
The Commons is currently grasped by election fever. The start of the new parliament requires the election of new chairs of Select Committees. The elections are hard fought, as not only do the chairmanships give MPs status and opportunities for media coverage, they also provide an additional income of £15,000. They are therefore attractive roles for MPs, especially those who believe that elevation to ministerial rank is unlikely in the short term.
Whilst the distribution of which chairmanship goes to which party is set via a mixture of convention, the rules of the House and agreements between party whips, Chairs are now elected under a system introduced after the 2010 general election. The process is particularly interesting as candidates for the Chairs are elected under the alternative vote system by all MPs not just the MPs from the party that has been allocated the chairmanship. This means that successful candidates for contested positions have to canvass support from opposing parties and second preference votes can be crucial to the outcomes. The process provides a valuable opportunity for new MPs to engage with senior MPs from across the House and has played a role in increasing the profile of Select Committee’s as Chairs who freed from the patronage of their party whips have taken a fearless approach to scrutiny.
MPs are given a relatively free hand in deciding who to support with party whips not really playing much of a role, beyond the fact that loyalist MPs might find colleagues suggesting who might or not be the Prime Minister’s choice for a position.
The calculations that MPs make when deciding who to support is an interesting mixture of friendship, political loyalty and repayment for past favours or favours expected. There will be a calculation of which candidate will be more or less helpful to their political interests, especially when voting for candidates for Chairs held by other parties. For example, loyal Government MPs might decide to vote for an MP they think will be less troublesome when hauling Government Ministers over the coals. Opposition MPs will be looking for candidates from the Government side with an independent streak who will be prepared to give their Government a hard time.
The election for chairs is held 14 days after the announcement of allocations of committees between parties Candidates then launch into a period of underlining their interest and expertise in their chosen select committee’s area of policy and lobbying and pulling in favours from across the House of Commons.