Phillip Lee has resigned! What do you mean you’ve never heard of Phillip Lee MP?
His resignation as a justice minister over Brexit has rocked the government and suddenly all manner of people with a limited understanding of the workings of the Tory party are hailing him as the messiah, a man of conscience and the future Tory leader. He wants to pause Article 50 and eventually to hold a second referendum. He wants to stop Brexit. The full Tony Blair and Roland Rudd, basically.
So, who is he? Phillip Lee is an MP, obviously, who got in for the seat of Bracknell at the 2010 general election. He beat Iain Dale and Rory Stewart in the selection contest. Rory Stewart, now an MP, is a potential future leader and today, one suspects, those Tories of Bracknell of a non-Europhile disposition will be wishing that Rory Stewart or Iain Dale had won the nomination that night rather than Phillip Lee.
Anyway, Lee is a medic, a doctor. He stood out, for me, after the formation of the coalition in 2010 when he rather touchingly seemed to imagine that because he is a doctor the government would consult him and use his expertise on the NHS. That is not how government works, and for the highly ambitious newbie MP this was an eye opener.
For any new arrival in the Commons used to succeeding in the outside world on merit, the weird ways of Westminster can be hard to comprehend. I mean, Karen Bradley is Northern Ireland Secretary. Gavin Williamson is Defence Secretary. In the parlance of my Paisley grandmother, I would not send either Bradley or Williamson for a loaf. That is, I would not entrust either of them with the task of going to the local shop to purchase a loaf of bread of a morning.
Anyway, the Cameron crowd never liked Lee. They found him needy and intense. He was going nowhere, but getting angrier at his exclusion, say friends, while developing a conviction that he could become a leadership contender. Lee eventually got his chance of promotion and a ministerial career with an appointment to Justice under Theresa May. He is, or was, on friendly terms with the PM.
Now, today, he has got his sweet revenge on the smart crowd who dismissed him. Everyone – or anyone who pays attention to politics – know who he is now. Phillip Lee MP is trending on Twitter. Articles are being written and profiles assembled. Features editors on newspapers are cranking up the Google machine and putting in calls. Was he really a friend of Diana, Princess of Wales? Does he support QPR? Is it one L or two in Phillip?
What about after this flurry of attention, though? It never ceases to amaze me how many unlikely MPs think that one day, somehow, leadership will fall to them. Mingled with public service the thought drives them on.
But once the votes on Brexit are over, and the UK leaves the EU, the Tory tribe will need to be patched back together to stop the far left Corbyn gang. Remainers such as Amber Rudd and Nicky Morgan (both with ambitions to be back in the cabinet) have been working in that direction of late. That being the case, an MP – Phillip Lee for example – who resigned to stop Brexit at a delicate moment is unlikely to get many votes in a future leadership contest from either Tory MPs or from Tory members who are overwhelmingly, not unanimously, but overwhelmingly, in favour of leaving the EU.