Mel Stride: The tour guide who took over the Commons
The elevation of Mel Stride to Cabinet rank has excited political interest not so much for who he is, but who he is close to.
While Westminster sizzles with intrigue as Theresa May’s troubled premiership finally teeters on the brink of collapse, Mr Stride’s widely interpreted role as an unofficial advocate for Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s expected, but as yet undeclared, leadership push is to the fore.
Mr Stride’s rise from the relative political backwater of being Paymaster General to becoming Leader of the House of Commons is even being seen by some as an attempt by Mrs May to try and anoint her successor.
But such assertions may be stretching Westminster’s Game of Thrones-style theories a bit far because Mrs May’s premiership has been prosaic rather than blockbuster plot-driven and in reality the Prime Minister probably felt she needed a safe pair of hands in a hurry as the growing leadership crisis continues to engulf Number 10.
Married with three daughters, Mr Stride, 57, a grammar school boy who became president of the Oxford Union and has been MP for Central Devon since 2010, has a reputation as a competent, if unexciting minister.
Mr Stride took over as Chancellor Philip Hammond’s media human shield after David Gauke reached Cabinet rank.
The Westminster word had been that the Treasury would “uncork the Gauke” when it wanted to put up a minister who would try to bore the media into abandoning a story.
With Mr Stride’s arrival on the scene that phrase became “unshell the Mel”.
The MP’s website boasts that he is a “qualified tour guide”, entitled to lead groups through historic sites like Stonehenge, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.
On the face of it, Mr Stride, who backed Remain in the referendum and the arch-Brexiteer Environment Secretary appear odd political bedfellows, but the parliamentary talk is that he has been Team Gove for some time and would like to help guide his old friend to the historic door of Number 10.
Mr Gove is widely thought to still harbour Downing Street ambitions after his spectacular fall out with Boris Johnson in the last leadership race helped destroy the chances of either man securing the Tory crown that time around.
Mr Stride’s rise to replace strident Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom tilts a Cabinet already heavy with 2016 Remain campaigners further in that direction, but the political interplay with Mr Gove creates another power dynamic.
In his previous role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Stride was in the Commons chamber when a session had to be suspended due to rain falling through the ceiling.
Now he finds himself in the opportune position as leader of that Commons chamber as the roof begins to fall in on Mrs May’s reign as Prime Minister.