A profile of the Swansea-born MP who could cause Prime Minister Boris Johnson massive problems after his election this week as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee
By Martin Shipton, Chief Reporter
South Wales Echo – 18 July 2020
A right-wing Tory MP who was born and educated in Swansea has become an unlikely hero of the left after defeating Boris Johnson's preferred candidate to become chairman of Westminster's Intelligence and Security Committee. Julian Lewis, who went to Dynevor Grammar School before studying philosophy and politics in Oxford and gaining a DPhil in strategic studies, stunned the UK Government in the way he beat former Cabinet Minister Chris Grayling to the post by gaining the votes of Labour and SNP MPs.
The backbench MP's victory could lead to serious trouble for Mr Johnson, especially if and when a committee report on the influence of Russia on British politics, that should have been released before last December's General Election, is published next week as now promised. There is a widespread belief at Westminster that the report contains material likely to prove damaging to the Conservative Party. Within hours of defeating Mr Grayling, Mr Lewis was kicked out of the Conservative Party for disloyalty – even though the government is supposed to leave the election of committee chairmen to the cross-party backbenchers who make up the membership.
Anyone who looks at Mr Lewis' career would soon discover he is both a rightwinger and someone who is prepared to use idiosyncratic means to achieve his ends. In a speech given at his old school in 2017, Mr Lewis explained how he had worked with Jeremy Corbyn to secure Commons debates on issues close to his heart – and how that had paid dividends in an earlier Select Committee election. He said:
“Since about 2010, there has been a special Backbench Business Committee which allocates time for debates initiated by individual MPs. It always helps, when applying to this committee to grant a debate opportunity, for the applicant to show that the suggested subject would attract vigorous contributions from both sides of the argument. For this reason, whenever Jeremy wanted to secure a debate on, for example, the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement or the next Ten-Year Review Conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he would ask me to attend the committee with him and make the case (from the opposite side of the argument) about why a debate on this subject would be valuable.
Similarly, I could always rely on Jeremy to back my applications for debates on the Trident deterrent, from his diametrically opposing perspective. Having secured these debates, we would both then take part in them, doing everything possible to undermine each other's sincerely held points of view. For that reason, it should not have come as such a surprise that, when I sought support from Labour MPs for the role of Defence Committee chairman, as well a staunch defenders of Nato and deterrence like Kevan Jones and the late Sir Gerald Kaufman, my Labour sponsors included two members of the far-left Socialist Campaign Group: namely, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn himself.”
Long before he became an MP, Mr Lewis showed an original approach to politics. From 1976 until early 1978, with secret funding from right-wing campaign group The Freedom Association, he posed as a Labour Party moderate and briefly won control of Newham North East Constituency Labour Party, in an eventually unsuccessful attempt to reverse the deselection of the sitting MP, Reg Prentice, and to highlight Militant entryism in the Labour Party.
As a leading opponent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he was a director of the Coalition for Peace through Security, set up to support the replacement of the Polaris nuclear programme by Trident and the deployment of NATO cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth.
From the mid-1980s, Lewis was also director of Policy Research Associates, working with Tory peers to introduce legislation in a number of areas, including the requirement to have postal ballots for trade union elections, outlawing “political indoctrination” in schools, prohibiting local councils from publishing material which
“promotes or opposes a point of view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another”
and more strictly defining the concept of “due impartiality” in the coverage of politically contentious issues on TV and radio. All such campaigns were successful.
From 1990 until 1996, Mr Lewis was a deputy director of the Conservative Research Department at Conservative Central Office. In the run-up to the 1992 General Election, he compiled lists of Labour MPs' and candidates' support for left-wing causes. Mr Lewis was an early opponent of Britain joining the euro, and a strong supporter of Brexit many years before the term was invented. He contested Swansea West at the 1983 General Election, coming 2,350 votes behind the Labour MP Alan Williams – a better result than that achieved in the constituency at the next election in 1987 by the future Shadow Welsh Secretary Nigel Evans, who was more than 7,000 votes behind Mr Williams.
Mr Lewis became the MP for the Hampshire seat of New Forest East in 1997. He held a number of shadow ministerial posts during Labour's time in government, but when the Conservatives returned to power in 2010 he missed out on becoming a minister because his previous portfolio was allocated to the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in the coalition led by David Cameron. Another example of his eccentricity is that he is the only MP who refuses to use email for constituency casework, describing it as “inefficient, insecure and open to abuse”.
Nevertheless, he is widely respected in the Commons, is considered to have done a good job previously as chairman of the Defence Select Committee, and is well qualified for his latest, unexpected appointment.