Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Andrew Tyrie Stands Down as MP and from the Treasury Select Committee: Where Will He Land and Who Will Replace Him?

Today’s post looks at the news that Conservative MP and Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, is to step down at the forthcoming election. Rather than cast aspersions on Tyrie’s political allegiances, the focus for this post will be, primarily, upon his role as Chairman of the Committee. In this role, Tyrie has developed a reputation for being meticulous and thorough when scrutinising the actions of political and business elites, and it is this that is important for our understanding. Therefore, after looking at Tyrie’s performance over the years in the role, the post will look at where Tyrie should go now that he is leaving Parliament, and also the importance of finding a suitable replacement.

The caveat to this piece is that it should be a given that politicians could always do more in their roles. Scrutiny is great but, just for one example, the fact that hardly anybody was punished for the Financial Crisis and the endemic fraud that underpinned it is the more telling understanding. However, we have spoken before in Financial Regulation Matters about the limitations of advancing the notion that white-collar criminals should be punished just as severely as anybody else, so with that in mind let us continue within the parameters that scrutinising is a particularly positive endeavour. In that sense, Andrew Tyrie represents the forefront of political and business-related scrutineering in this country, akin, arguably, to recently retired US Senator Carl Levin who, apart from his many endeavours over his years as Senator, led the inquisition into the Financial Crisis from an American perspective. Tyrie has been in and around Parliament for over 20 years, and took the reins of the Treasury Select Committee in 2010. In that role, which he campaigned to have strengthened by making the case for Select Committee Chairman to be elected by MPs, Tyrie has faced off against a number of powerful and influential individuals. In 2016, the Select Committee called Sir John Chilcot to bear, with Tyrie putting Chilcot under particularly revealing pressure with his thoughts on Tony Blair’s culpability in taking the country to war. He has grilled Governors of the Bank of England, including a systematic examination of Sir Mervyn King’s powers, and more recently rebuking Mark Carney for threatening the perceived independence of the Bank by engaging in a ‘deliberate attempt to frighten the voting public with a political motive’ regarding Brexit. His economics background gives him an insight into a world which often, and purposefully, shrouded in an air of complexity – this was demonstrated particularly well in his public dressing-down of former HBOS Chairman Lord Stevenson, who Tyrie labelled ‘delusional’, living in ‘cloud cuckoo land’, and as being ‘evasive, repetitive, and unrealistic’. The most recent example of Tyrie’s quest for fairness amongst the financial elite was reviewed in Financial Regulation Matters when the story broke that Charlotte Hogg had transgressed in her role in the Bank of England; again, it was the Committee behind that development. However, Tyrie would also make a name for himself for challenging the elites within his own party, which has seen him being described, since he announced his resignation, as a ‘true parliamentarian’.

Tyrie’s most famous political clashes have been with the leaders of his own party, including none other than the then Prime Minster David Cameron, and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who has graced the pages of Financial Regulation Matters before. With regards to the David Cameron, the two had a heated exchange during a hearing whereby the Prime Minister was being questioned on his approach to assisting inquiries into the relevancy and appropriateness of force being used in Syria, which saw Cameron angrily respond to Tyrie ‘you do not know what you are talking about’ after being asked why information was not forthcoming to Intelligence and Security Committees tasked with overseeing the actions of Government. With regards to Osborne, the then Chancellor was taken to task regarding a bank surcharge that the Government had dreamed up because, essentially, the fear was that the surcharge would inhibit competition to the detriment of consumers and small businesses. These are just some of the many actions taken by Tyrie in his role as Chairman of the Select Committee, but as of the General Election in June, the Committee will need a new leader.

This then raises two questions. The first is where will Tyrie go now? It was stated in the Financial Times today that Tyrie’s decision came as a surprise initially, because ‘only last week he was lobbying to stay chair of the committee’, although it appears that he was aware that the tenure may have only lasted one more year. At 60, Tyrie still has a while to remain influential, and one columnist in The Guardian has suggested that Tyrie would be a natural replacement for Hogg, or at least should be given a prominent role in the Bank of England – this is not the worst idea in the world. Failing that, a role within a financial regulator like the Financial Conduct Authority would seem fitting for a man who challenged political elites at the cost of his parliamentary career; hopefully, this story does not end in the same way most political careers do with the politician monetising their position by walking through the ‘revolving door’. In terms of the second question – who will replace Tyrie? – there are currently no stand-out characters. What is for sure, however, is that what we need – in terms of a country going through a particularly difficult and divisive transition – is someone who will forego political ambitions (in terms of wanting to become a cabinet minister) in order to hold the political and financial elite to account. There is a constant fear, demonstrated by the posts in Financial Regulation Matters, but across the news media generally, that the changing tides in the British political landscape can be fertile ground for abuse – a select committee chairman who will be willing to ask difficult questions may be the best chance, within the current parameters, of reducing the likelihood of that abuse. Therefore, the appointment to the Chairmanship should be observed with interest. 

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