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We need a few more high-profile MPs from East Anglia

PUBLISHED: 21:33 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 19:46 14 June 2019

Norman Lamb launches his Liberal Democrat leadership bid in 2015. Iain Dale says he was able to do far more for North Norfolk when he was health minister compared to his current role as a backbench MP

Norman Lamb launches his Liberal Democrat leadership bid in 2015. Iain Dale says he was able to do far more for North Norfolk when he was health minister compared to his current role as a backbench MP

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Iain Dale says more high profile East Anglian MPs would mean a better deal for East Anglians in parliament

There was a time when East Anglian MPs dominated Conservative cabinets. It was certainly the case in the Thatcher and Major governments. Nowadays, less so. Norfolk has two cabinet members (Liz Truss and Brandon Lewis), Suffolk and Cambridgeshire each contribute one cabinet member (Matt Hancock and Stephen Barclay), but Essex is a cabinet member free zone for the first time for many years. This matters.

The Conservatives hold 35 out of the 41 constituencies in the region - that's 11% of the parliamentary party. On the face of it, the fact that the region boasts four cabinet members - 14% of the total - isn't a bad record, yet when you think of the parts of the country that don't boast any cabinet ministers at all, perhaps we're not doing so well, especially when you consider that half of the cabinet represent constituencies in the south east of England.

Furthermore, in the leadership contest East Anglia has only one representative in Matt Hancock, who represents West Suffolk in Parliament. This is not unusual. The only East Anglian MPs to have taken part in the five leadership contests since 1975 were Jim Prior in 1975 and John Major in 1990. Since then, and until now, Tory leadership contests have been an East Anglia free zone.

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The only Liberal Democrat to have contested a leadership election was Norman Lamb in 2015, when he lost out to Tim Farron - and by the way, many congratulations to Norman Lamb on his recent knighthood. Sadly, no East Anglian Labour MP has ever stood to lead their party. Charles Clarke probably came closest in 2007.

So why does this matter? It matters because politics is all about lobbying. The more powerful the voice, the more likely you are to gain benefits for your region or constituency. There's no doubt about it, when Norman Lamb was a health minister in the coalition government he was in a far better position to fight for local health services than he is now as a backbench MP, although that's not to say backbench MPs are powerless. As a cabinet minister it's not just what you can lobby for, you're also in a much better position to lobby against something which might be damaging to your area. Both Cheryl Gillan and David Lidington have been far better placed to mitigate the effects of HS2 on their constituencies by being in the cabinet.

I remember back in the mid-1980s, when I worked for the Norwich North MP Patrick Thompson, he and his Norwich South colleague John Powley, launched a high-profile campaign, backed by the EDP and the Eastern Evening News (as it then was), to dual the entire length of the A11. I doubt very much whether that campaign would have been so successful without East Anglian MPs Paul Channon, John MacGregor and Brian Mawhinney all being Transport Secretaries in the 1980s and 1990s, and of course John Major was prime minister.

When political parties select candidates, especially in so-called safe seats, they need to be far less parochial in their priorities. They all ought to be thinking: "Is this person someone who I could imagine could get into the cabinet?" Yes, they need to be good constituency MPs, but too often they select perfectly good representatives for their local areas, but they're not people who have the ability to climb what Disraeli called 'the greasy pole' and reach the very top. I'm afraid there are too many obscure, average quality MPs in [arliament at the moment, and also too many who have achieved very little in their lives outside politics. 
There's a view that a parliament of 'normal' people is what we need. No, we need a parliament which has a broad range of people and interests, and people with a higher than average intellectual capacity. Nowadays, we have a parliament stuffed full of people who've never done a day's work outside the confines of politics or the trade union movement. I exaggerate to make a point, but not by much.

Email Iain at iain@iaindale.com or follow him on Twitter @iaindale

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