Theresa May’s new government gets to work today, and first to face the heat of the Chamber was the Communities and Local Government frontbench. Unfortunately, the Chamber turned out to be rather cool, as very few Labour MPs had managed to turn up, giving Sajid Javid and his team a rather gentler introduction to their new jobs. One of them, Andrew Percy, told the Chamber that ‘I share the House’s surprise!’ on this appointment as he rose to take his first question.
But largely the questions that were asked were not a surprise for the frontbench. Some Tory MPs were anxious for a renewed commitment from the new ministers to the sanctity of the Green Belt, as even a perceived threat to those doughnuts of protected land around cities can send Tory voters into a wild panic. They got that reassurance, with the Secretary of State saying ‘the Green Belt remains special’. Others wanted to ask about business rates and building more homes.
The Labour frontbench was rather gentle, with the only really forceful line of questioning coming from Tristram Hunt, who chose to attack Percy for ‘Brexit baloney’ in refusing to commit to match funding for the EU funds that communities such as the one he represents will lose as a result of the country’s exit from the European Union. Hunt returned to the theme later in the session, accusing Sajid Javid of selling North Staffordshire down the river by failing to make that match funding commitment. If the Labour frontbench were functioning, perhaps it would be able to make this seriously uncomfortable for the Tories as some Leave voters start to suspect there is a personal cost to their vote. For the time being, Javid and colleagues will be more likely to worry about their internal opposition than the one across the Commons.