!-- consent -->
The press has detected, among Conservatives, a degree of weariness not just with the Prime Minister but with her Cabinet colleagues, and a desire, when the moment comes, to find the next leader among the ranks of the gifted intake of 2010, or even of 2015.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is so far the most conspicuous beneficiary (if that is the word) of this craving for someone new, but another name, Tom Tugendhat, is mentioned with increasing frequency.
“He would be a much, much better candidate,” Rees-Mogg on Tuesday assured ConHome. “I’m a founder member of Tugmentum.”
In a sense, the fevered search for someone from the younger generation of Tory MPs is fit subject only for jokes. But it does also indicate the insurgent mood at Westminster.
And Tugendhat this summer led a successful insurgency. Despite only entering the House in 2015, he stood against his fellow Conservative Crispin Blunt, who became an MP in 1997, for the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs select committee, and won a decisive victory on the first ballot.
Tugendhat got 317 votes to Blunt’s 184, and 71 for the third candidate, John Baron. On the Conservative side, Tugendhat was nominated by, among others, Owen Paterson, Tracey Crouch, Michael Gove and Rees-Mogg, while on the Labour side he was supported by two men sometimes spoken of as future leaders of that party, Sir Keir Starmer and Dan Jarvis.
Blunt was felt by some MPs to be too soft on the Foreign Office, and too inclined to attribute its deficiencies to inadequate funding.
Nor did Tugendhat shrink from criticising more eminent figures than Blunt. In a piece for The Times, published just before the vote, he began by setting out some of his own qualifications for the role:
“I have spent the best part of 15 years on the front line of British foreign policy. As we crossed the border into Iraq, I was one of many soldiers who questioned the decision but obeyed the orders. As I flew down to Helmand to establish the first non-warlord governor in Lashkar Gah I was not alone in wondering if we had the resources to do the job. But my job then was to execute British foreign policy, not to question it.
“I’m not a diplomat or a soldier any more. My job now is to challenge the decisions. It’s the reason I got into politics and why I’m standing for the Commons foreign affairs committee. Too often I’ve seen the cost of failure.”
Tugendhat proceeded to slip in an unkind reference to the present Foreign Secretary:
“When humour is lost in translation it creates misunderstandings with other countries that we can’t afford.”
And yet for most of the time, Tugendhat is the soul of affability, very good at getting on with people. One of his most remarkable promotions was to become, towards the end of a decade of service with the Territorial Army which started in 2003 and included active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, military assistant to General David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Tugendhat, in the words of one who knows him well, is “very unusual in having a strategic sense of the world”. Few soldiers or politicians possess this. He also has a kind of candour, or the courage to speak his mind, which is difficult to define, but makes conversation with him more valuable: “He was loyal to Richards, but also told you things that were quite risky to tell you, but not in order to undermine his boss.”
When interviewing Tugendhat last year for ConHome, I invited him to endorse some critical remarks Richards, now a life peer, had made about the tendency in Whitehall to prefer freedom fighters to soldiers.
Tugendhat batted that away with no trouble: “I think the General knows how to express his own opinions. I think most people are very supportive of the armed forces.”
While working for Richards, he became worried by the utterly unfair and misguided persecution, by lawyers making large sums at public expense, of British troops who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As soon as Tugendhat left the Army, Dean Godson, at Policy Exchange, commissioned him to write two pamphlets, The Fog of Law and Clearing the Fog of Law, which put this issue on the map.
Policy Exchange’s work on “lawfare”, as it came to be known, was the UK equivalent of the Manhattan Institute’s “Broken Windows” moment, for it drastically changed the terms of the debate, and led to decisive action to deal with the problem.
At the same time, Tugendhat put in for the Tory candidacy in the safe seat of Tonbridge and Malling, and in an open primary defeated three other finalists – Ed Argar, Victoria Atkins and Chris Philp – who are all now in the Commons.
Tugendhat was able to tell his prospective constituents: “I am not a professional politician… I have never fought an election.”
This was perfectly true. Nor did he suffer the handicap of having been to Eton, which would have exposed him to the charge of being a toff. He was educated at St Paul’s School in London, and read theology at Bristol University (he is a devout Roman Catholic), followed by a masters’ degree in Islamic studies at Caius College, Cambridge, which included learning Arabic in Yemen.
He went to live Beirut, did some journalism, set up a public relations firm, came back to London to work as an energy consultant, and joined the Territorial Army, becoming a member of the Intelligence Corps just in time to go, thanks to his Arabic, to Iraq with the Royal Marines in 2003, by which time he was 30.
In his maiden speech in the Commons, Tugendhat quoted St Thomas More, and referred to his father, Sir Michael, a high court judge, whose own father, Georg, was of Austrian Jewish descent, had come to London after the First World War to study at the London School of Economics, and set up the Manchester Oil Refinery.
Another of Georg’s sons, Christopher Tugendhat, became a Conservative MP, served as a European Commissioner, and is now a Conservative peer.
The family is of an interest which cannot be fully drawn in a short profile. And Tom Tugendhat is married to Anissia Morel, a woman of striking good looks who is herself from a distinguished French diplomatic family, and works full-time as a judge of the supreme court in Paris. They have two young children.
In the EU referendum, Tugendhat was a firm Remainer. He is good friends with Ed Llewellyn, who used to be David Cameron’s chief of staff and is now Ambassador in Paris.
Among the present crop of Tory MPs, the obvious comparison is between Tugendhat and Rory Stewart, who entered the House in 2010 and in 2014 won a tough fight to become chairman of the defence select committee, but a year later accepted junior ministerial office.
Both are proconsular figures, in an age not rich in such types. But Stewart, who has been on some very long walks through some very remote places, is by temperament much more of an outsider than Tugendhat.
The next leader of the Conservative Party usually turns out to be some unexpected figure who comes through at the right moment. Not since Sir Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill in 1955 has the heir apparent taken over.
But at least the pastime of trying to spot the next leader helps draw attention, for a moment or two, to the depth of talent which can be found in the parliamentary party, much of it recruited in the period when Cameron was leader.