Scott Benton has become the latest 2019 intake Tory MP to embarrass himself. Caught in a lobbying scandal, the MP for Blackpool South has lost the whip and now sits as an independent — alongside fellow 2019 winner Rob Roberts, who was booted out of the parliamentary party after a series of scandals.
The MPs who took the seats of Labour MPs in the last election were meant to be the new vanguard of the Tory Party. While many of those selected in safe seats were straight out of central casting, the Conservatives cast their net wider for their new targets. Many had burnished their credentials in Vote Leave and overlapped with Dominic Cummings’s apparent plan to seize the Tory Party as host for his reforms.
These selections served an immediate electoral purpose. They needed to be committed to Brexit and were often deeply embedded in local communities. Many weren’t obvious Tories, so they appealed to first-time Conservative voters in Labour heartlands — indeed, Lee Anderson had been a Labour councillor before 2019. They were to be new faces of the Tory Party in new areas, bringing in new successes.
Four years on, neither they nor the seats they won seem to have much a future with the party. Benton, Roberts and others have caused their own downfall, with Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan falling the furthest, jailed for historic sexual offences. Others have simply chosen to wind down their political careers in the face of likely defeat. Dehenna Davison, the breakout star who won Bishop Auckland, and Nicola Richards, the Tories’ youngest MP, have both announced they won’t be running next time.
The attempt to create a new source of power in the party has petered out. One of the few Leave-leaning protégés of 2019 who will still be around in the next parliament is Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South, who defected to Labour last year and has been readopted to fight the seat again from the other side. There are some exceptions — Miriam Cates and Claire Coutinho come to mind — but Cummings’s grand plan to seed new disciples has failed overall.
Getting MPs from your faction into parliament is perhaps the best way to influence British politics. Their role in selecting leaders and controlling what legislation is viable gives them an outsized role — but it depends on their ability to stay there without embarrassing themselves or losing their seat. The Corbyn project tried a similar approach and hit the same buffers, with MPs who were never properly vetted ending up in jail, expelled from the party, or removed by the electorate.
The last election was pitched as a reinvention of the Conservative Party. But the party in 2025 will show few traces of the project of 2019. Its future will in large part hinge on who is left in the Commons after the next election. They will shortlist the next leader and the agenda will be dependent on their confidence, yet almost none will be the upstarts of 2019.
A mixture of personal disgrace and political misfortune means that few will remember the fresh faces of the Red Wall and last time’s gains. The small, but effective, minority has almost disappeared.