Rory roars in

Rory Stewart

Well, well, well. An ex-military maverick replaces a consummate Westminster insider in the chair of one of the key Commons committees, the Defence Committee.

The new incumbent, Rory Stewart. is anything but the continuation of the departing James Arbuthnot, by other means.

Mr Arbuthnot, a former Tory Chief Whip, was a key player in the parliamentary politics of defence, but he mostly operated below the radar, only going public on an issue after intense provocation.

His committee - across parties - held him in deep respect and all appeared to be signed up to his agenda.

His successor was not a member of the committee, and will be a new broom. And his first task will be to win over the veterans he has inherited - which won't be a simple task.

Kiplingesque

There are all kinds of interesting aspects to Rory Stewart's election. He is the first member of the 2010 intake to take a select committee chair and will be the youngest chair by some distance - and younger than all but one member of the committee he takes over (Labour's John Woodcock is the baby of the committee, born in 1978).

But his glamorous military and diplomatic background gives him a CV which reads more like an adventurer out of Kipling (he walked across Central Asia, taking in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal in 2000-2, and his Commons nickname, rather cattily is "Florence of Arabia") than that of a 21st Century MP.

That, in turn, means he comes to the job with plenty of experience and definite opinions.

What will he say of the great defence issues of the day? He's certainly a critic of the Bush-Blair era idea of invasion and nation-building, after his experiences helping administer occupied Iraq.

And some of his utterances during the election for chair could be taken as coded criticism of the Defence Committee, for failing to be more robust about Britain's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he missed the Syria vote, last August, to attend his sister's wedding.

Then there's the replacement of Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent. For his closest rival, Julian Lewis (who lost by just 14 votes, remember) a like-for-like Trident replacement was a no-brainer - there's some suggestion he is more sceptical. And that may even have been the decisive factor.

But a low-key, behind-the-scenes operator of mainstream views has been replaced by a high-profile, media-savvy intellectual of completely unpredictable views. Interesting times lie ahead.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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