Edward Leigh, a hard-line, argumentative right-wing Tory, whose name is barely known outside Westminster or his Gainsborough constituency, has quietly become one of the most influential figures in parliament – and that includes cabinet ministers.
He has been selected as chairman of the powerful public accounts committee, an all-party body whose job it is to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for his money. It has been aptly called the ‘scourge of government waste’.
Leigh succeeds David Davis, now chairman of the Conservative Party.
Leigh’s appointment comes as no surprise. He was already a member of the committee and its chairman is traditionally a seasoned member of the opposition.
He is no respecter of persons, and is a dangerous enemy of unnecessary public spending. Those who come before the committee to give evidence can expect a stern, even merciless, grilling.
For a time, Leigh was a junior technology minister in John Major’s administration.
He was sacked in the early summer of 1993 and later publicly claimed that his dismissal was because he lacked political correctness.
His sacking was because he had been identified as the ringleader of the anti-Maastricht ministers – something Major could not tolerate. Leigh’s response was to say the right had lost control of the party. ‘It must regroup and return to the fray.’
This is the sort of hard-line attitude he has maintained. But Labour MPs on the committee did not oppose his choice as chairman.
They realise that Leigh is the sort of straight-from-the-shoulder character that this committee needs.
Governments of both complexions have feared this committee. Ministers will find that the arrival of Edward Leigh as its new chairman could make the experience of giving evidence before its members even more or an ordeal than it already was.
– Chris Moncrieff is a senior political analyst at PA News.
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