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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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Was the 2019 intake really that chaotic?

Boris Johnson alongside the newly elected 2019 intake of Conservative MPs at the Houses of Parliament (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

11 min read

The intake of 2019 was nothing if not intense: swept in on a wave but then stranded by the pandemic. As this Parliament ends, Tali Fraser runs the rule over an intake that saw more chaos than most

One pandemic, two defenestrated prime ministers, multiple leadership elections across most parties, and more plotting than the Ordnance Survey – the 140 MPs who arrived in Parliament in December 2019 haven’t lacked for drama.  

“It has been an intense experience. There has been a lot of trauma bonding between us,” one Conservative MP who won one of the seats from Labour’s so-called red wall of constituencies says. 

“It has been mental,” comes the echo from across the Chamber from a Labour MP who bucked the trend in 2019. “There has not been a month go by where something hasn’t happened.” 

Like every new intake the class of 2019 has attracted the opprobrium of some from older vintages. Oafish, entitled and louche, sniff some Tories of their newer colleagues who they believe lack loyalty and resolve. It’s not hard to find similar criticisms within other parties – even the SNP, once noted for their esprit de corps. But is any of this fair? 

It is undeniable that some of the Conservative intake have proved to be more troublesome than others, with rebellions  feeling near constant, beginning with a number of 2019-ers’ involvement in the “Pork Pie Plot” to remove Boris Johnson and now continuing with brewing revolts against Rishi Sunak emerging from the group of New Conservatives, primarily made up of those elected at the last general election. 

There is no evidence, however, that this intake has defied the whip more often than others (although that may be because of a lack of research). 

There has also been serious wrongdoing by some MPs elected in 2019. One, Ahmed Khan, was convicted in 2022 of a sexual assault on a child. Another, Scott Benton, was handed a 35-day suspension last month after he was found to have breached lobbying rules. 

“Many of them came in on the high tide of double B: Boris and Brexit,” one senior Tory MP says. 

“Their roots in the Conservative Party were sort of shallow. That means they don’t really believe in what Conservatives believe so when things are difficult, they don’t know what to do or where to go – they just become shriller and abusive and more and more erratic.” 

Adapting from a single-issue campaign to the business of representing people, they say, “has been pretty difficult for some of them”. 

This “lack of rooting in a belief system”, the old guard claim, is the “dominant reason” as to why we have seen such plotting involving 2019-ers. 

They credit Johnson himself with their electoral success, not the Conservative party, while their small majorities mean they are easily spooked. 

An often-shared complaint around the malaise of the Tories’ 2019 intake has centred around candidate selection: the urgency to select candidates at short notice, who often went on to win against the assumed odds, meant that people snuck through the system’s quality check. 

But the reality is that the overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs elected to red wall seats had already been in local government, worked as special advisers or previously stood as parliamentary candidates. Only four of those elected in red wall seats in 2019 were without this kind of experience. This reflects a wider cross-party trend in which those with strong local connections have tended to prevail in candidate selections. 

The Conservative red wall-ers tend to be whiter, younger and  more often male than the rest of their intake. Over 40 per cent of red wall MPs were born after 1985, compared to 19 per cent of new MPs outside the red wall, with only eight of the red wall MPs women (27 per cent) compared to 34 per cent of non-red wall MPs first elected in 2019. 

The wider 2019 intake is more likely to be LGBT than previous cohorts, but slightly less likely to be from an ethnic minority than Conservative MPs who were first elected in the 2010s. 

They haven’t been given time to develop after their progression was stunted by Covid

Where the class of 2019 differs significantly to their prior cohorts is in their schooling. Over half of Conservative MPs elected in 2019 were educated at comprehensive schools, compared to just over one in five of pre-Cameron MPs. Fewer than a third were educated at fee-paying schools. 

One former cabinet minister believes there is an element of snobbishness in the treatment of the 2019 intake that has led to the idea that they are not suited for Parliament. 

“I think there are people who look down on them,” they say. “The comparison being made in assessing their success is against the high wave they came in on vs the prospects that we face in the next general election. That is not the fault of the entire intake of MPs.” 

“What do any new MPs really achieve in their first term anyway – they haven’t been given time to develop after their progression was stunted by Covid.” 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the country only three months into the new Parliament, the 2019-ers say they had barely had enough time to set up their office and make friends, let alone settle into the life of an MP. 

“It really was quite a lonely experience,” a Tory 2019 MP recalls. 

But another flags that some new MPs so enjoyed their brief foray of London living that they never went home during the pandemic: “There were MPs who arrived as loving fathers and husbands who very quickly went on to cheat with their staffers.” 

Covid hitting so early on is an area where experienced MPs show the 2019 intake some sympathy; there is an understanding that the usual acclimatisation process of becoming an MP was made very difficult. 

As one 2019 SNP MP points out, “when you become an MP you’ve undergone this extraordinary transformation in terms of how people see you”, and yet physically they found themselves “sitting at exactly the same desk as I have been for the previous eight years, unable to go for a cup of tea with colleagues or ask a question in the House properly”. 

One Labour 2019-er says: “It was like joining a new school, in a new country, where you don’t speak the language.” 

With the Labour leadership election to replace Jeremy Corbyn occurring during the coronavirus pandemic, new Labour MPs were getting calls asking for their support from leadership candidates they had never met. 

Another Labour MP from the 2019 intake says: “I had Keir calling me on December 23 to ask for my support in the leadership contests when we hadn’t even met yet! It was quite the Christmas gift.”  

It also meant that friendship groups inside the intake ended up mainly centred around location and being from neighbouring constituencies, for example the Welsh Labour group or the Nottinghamshire band comprising Brendan Clarke-Smith, Ben Bradley and Lee Anderson, crossing of ideology that happens when MPs are thrown together in Parliament.  

Clarke-Smith and Anderson, who resigned together from their deputy Conservative party chairman roles over the Rwanda bill, have become good friends, regularly playing darts in Anderson’s parliamentary office. 

To be a 2019-er, it seems that developing a thick skin to survive plotting is the least of your worries. 

What can also be helpful is a strong liver. The MPs’ bar, Strangers, boasts one of the best views of any pub in London – looking out onto the Thames – but also some of the cheapest alcohol, with a glass of house white only setting you back £4.95. It can also be a venue for bad behaviour – and a Pestminster 2.0 “sexual harassment list” has been shared among Labour’s 2019-ers, warning of MPs to be avoided there. 

A red wall MP has been known to, between votes, nip downstairs and drink three double whiskies in the MPs’ bar – and, one evening, even complained to an acquaintance about the quality of their company, exclaiming: “I thought you were bringing your attractive friends with you tonight!” 

Another is said to have drunk so much during a summer evening last year that paramedics had to wheel them off the terrace in a wheelchair. “He was too heavy for any of us to move him,” one fellow MP complained. 

It is a common view that, with some of the younger MPs in the 2019 intake, “the lines have been blurred with staffers who are close to their bosses’ ages”, one of the older of the 2019-ers says, with young staff members invited along to many of the MPs’ drinks parties, “especially Labour”. 

But another Tory 2019-er downplayed the idea that the group are living lives of debauchery during late night voting, tied with being away from their spouses and family members for most of the week: “When I was watching Anatomy of a Scandal (the British political thriller series) there was none of my experience in there… I could notice more of the flaws in the location spots and where the lifts should be than I could see any familiarities.” 

A former cabinet minister believes the extent of the 2019 intake’s drinking is overstated and maintains that, in cohorts gone by, the amount of alcohol consumed was far greater: “It is nowhere near what it was.” 

It is not just the Conservatives who make use of the MPs’ bar. One 2019 Labour MP even took someone through parliamentary security on a visitor  pass to Strangers, to go on the pair’s first date – an interesting spot for a budding romance. 

On the whole there is a consensus among the 2019 intake I spoke to of a congeniality between its members, though it doesn’t stop them from making sly comments about one another.  

While one Tory MP boasted of the camaraderie between the intake, they couldn’t help themselves in making a sly dig about fellow MPs in their party, like Alicia Kearns and Laura Farris, for being “un-Conservative”.  

But members of the 2019 intake are not alone in making disparaging remarks about their fellow colleagues. 

Those in previous cohorts will readily critique 2019 MPs who they think are not up to scratch. “There are a few people with rather unusual levels of self-belief for early promotion”, one MP tells me, while others “think they know better but there is a difference between being in a think tank and being in government” 

One senior Tory is more generous: “Sure they have their nutters but every intake does!” 

MPs from the 2019 intake often earmarked as doing well by the old guard include Laura Trott, Claire Coutinho, David Johnston and Laura Farris. 

They reckon that the 2019 intake has seen more new MPs reach ministerial jobs in their first term than any other cohort, primarily because of the churn of prime ministers during this Parliament. 

One former cabinet minister believes this has played into the egos of the latest intake: “There has been a further acceleration of urgency in their expectations of advance. 

“It is frustrating to see that they are not prepared to wait for that opportunity, do good work as a back bencher, become a PPS and follow the path that the rest of us have trodden.” 

Many of them came in on the high tide of double B: Boris and Brexit

Though of a different party, Stephen Flynn, elected in 2019 as MP for Aberdeen South, has even become leader of his party in Westminster, taking up the post as the SNP’s leader in the Commons only three years after entering Parliament. 

One 2019 SNP MP says that building cross-party connections appears to have been a slower process than in years gone by: “With Covid it has taken a while for people to kind of get to know each other… the alliances you can build over certain issues were harder when you were stuck in blocks of the political parties and not meeting others.” 

But friendships often cross the political divide, like Labour’s Alex Davies-Jones and the Tories’ Mark Fletcher who became “besties” after bonding over their shared love of wrestling; the pair are co-chairs of the wrestling APPG. 

There is a karaoke group that spans across all parties from the intake, who are very excited about the soon-to-be opened karaoke bar Bam in Victoria, usually ending their nights with a group singalong to Les Mis’s One Day More. 

One group of 2019-ers – who met and became friends during the armed forces parliamentary scheme – are planning a trip to Center Parcs together. 

A number of the 2019 intake even live in the same block of flats across the river from Parliament, where their late-night drinking is known to continue after the bars in the Palace of Westminster shut. 

But their fun may have been short-lived, as a number of those who entered Parliament in 2019 are set to be ousted at the next general election. In the words of former prime minister Boris Johnson, who brought many of the 2019 intake into Westminster, and may be responsible for dragging a few of them out: “Hasta la vista, baby.”

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