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Next Week’s 1922 Committee Elections Are About More Than Left And Right – Or A Vote Of Confidence In David Cameron

Last Updated: Friday, May 11th, 2012

Few things are certain in politics, and even fewer when the political body in question is the 1922 Committee, the body that represents backbench Conservative MPs.  It elects its officers and executive at the start of each Parliamentary session, and since a new one has just begun a poll will take place next week.

Hats may be hurled into the ring at the last moment, but as I write it looks as though Graham Brady, the right-wing Chairman, will be re-elected unopposed – as will most of the officers.  However, there will be a slate of candidates for a minority of positions backed by the 301 Group, whose main spokesman is the left-of-Tory-centre Conservative MP for Keighley, Kris Hopkins.

This will challenge Christopher Chope, the very much right-of-party-centre ‘22 Secretary, and I understand that another slate will back Mr Chope and field its own candidates.  The contest is thus likely to be written up as an internal left v right contest.  Number 10 will certainly claim the credit if the 301 ticket wins.

But in such an event, I think some of the spin from Downing Street should be discounted.  Why? Because while Mr Chope’s re-election would be a clear triumph for the right – and a rebuff for David Cameron – his defeat, and/or the victory of the 301 ticket elsewhere, would be more difficult to read.

This is because the ’22 elections are more than a battle between the party’s left-and-right.  They are also, in their way, a culture war – between an older generation of Tory MPs and the new one, elected only two years ago, that constitutes almost half of the Conservative Parliamentary Party.

The plethora of new backbench groups that has sprung up since 2010 – the 40, the 2020, the 301 itself – are in some ways a reaction to the ’22.  The 2010 intake come from a world of work where, by and large, management structures are flatter than they were and business structures more informal.

To many new MPs, the ’22 is an anachronism.  With its antique customs (some backbenchers address visiting Ministerial speakers indirectly through the Chairman), they view the committee as being from another age.  ’22 Executive members respond by claiming that their work is open to all – citing the committee’s five policy groups.

This bewilderment is felt especially strongly by some new Tory women MPs, who resent the way in which Mr Chope and other ’22 Executive members, such as Peter Bone, are willing to keep the Commons sitting late in order to challenge the Government.  They will try to take their revenge next week.

The Conservative left isn’t strong enough on its own to defeat the right in committee elections.  (The right swept the board after 2010: Graham Brady defeated the left’s candidate, Philip Oppenheim, and Nicholas Soames was left as the only left-of-party-centre representative on the Executive.)

However, it may be strong enough, in combination with other Tory MPs who want to transform the ’22 into more of a campaigning body, to win next week’s elections.  The 301-backed ticket is certainly a mixed one: Priti Patel, one of the three MPs who heads it up, is very much a woman of the right.

Perhaps it will win, and perhaps it won’t: we will see. But if it does, the result will be as much a vote of no confidence in the ’22 as it stands as a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister.

By Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FROM CONSERVATIVEHOME

Lord Risby: A single phone call from Moscow to Damascus could topple Assad.   “Given therefore that we want to halt the current bloodshed and intimidation in Syria, we ought then to consider whether the handling of Russia has been correct. Russia has suffered intense international criticism, yet has held to its stance thus far. The reason is simple. Particularly after Libya, Russia has no real friends in the Arab world, and the relationship it has with Syria’s military intelligence is regarded by them as crucial and invaluable. If, therefore, Russia could be given some clear assurances about some sort of continuing relationship with Syrian intelligence post-Assad, would this persuade them to abandon the regime? Some believe that a simple blunt telephone call to Assad from President Putin – telling him that his regime was over – would actually bring terminal reality to the ruling Syrian cabal. Read more: http://is.gd/wKT518

Roger Scruton: The Conservative Party is failing to define and promote its vision.  “The new establishment represents not England or Britain but abstract ideas, such as multiculturalism, social inclusion and equality – all of which, on examination, are names for the State. Yet the Conservative Party takes no opportunity to begin the long, slow but necessary task of replacing that establishment with something more in keeping with the national spirit. The fact is that the Tory Party has lost touch with its constituency, through ignoring the long-term standpoint that they share. I don’t doubt David Cameron’s sincerity or his underlying conservative instincts. But there is a case to answer, and he must answer it. How is it that a government dominated by the Conservative Party and with a Conservative Prime Minister devotes its energies to issues that are calculated to alienate its supporters, while failing to address the real matters that concern them?” Read more: http://is.gd/KtfskM

Lord Ashcroft: To keep core supporters and attract others, we need a sense of direction, not a change of direction.  “Last summer, when the Conservative vote share remained around the 37% the party achieved at the general election, I found a swing to Labour in the forty one Tory-held marginals that threatened most of them. Last week’s results continue the pattern that rather than expanding, the Conservative-voting coalition is eroding. Achieving a majority in 2015 is by no means impossible, but two years into the Coalition government the prospect undeniably looks more distant. I will be doing a good deal more work on this question in the weeks and months to come. Meanwhile, the local election results confirm my view that in order to keep existing supporters and attract others, what the Tories need is not so much a change of direction as a sense of direction.” Read more: http://is.gd/JEfq6H

Stephan Shakespeare: Boris didn’t win because he’s a true Conservative or because he’s a clown. He won because he’s competent.   “Boris is a very different person from the way he is generally taken; it’s an ironic phenomenon: so often our most ‘authentic’ politicians are those with the biggest gap between their public persona and their private natures. Boris is not bumbling but highly calculating, with a strong strategic sense behind all his moves; and he’s focused and bold in pursuit of his clear ambition. Don’t forget, going for Mayor was high-risk – not many believed he could succeed. But it was an essential move for him. And his mind has genuine curiosity and originality, capable of surprises. When I last had lunch with him, he was preparing to learn Arabic.” Read more: http://is.gd/Ssz4fB

Tim Montgomerie: The Alternative Queen’s Speech offers popular, pro-poor and broadly-based legislation.  What would the Queen’s Speech have looked like if a majority Conservative government had been elected two years ago? That’s the question we attempt to answer in the Alternative Queen’s Speech that ConservativeHome publishes today…The Alternative Queen’s Speech has no single author or group of authors. I’m grateful to MPs like David Davis and John Redwood for contributing individual ideas to it. You may have heard David on yesterday’s The World This Weekend talking about it and John was on this morning’s Today programme… We will be publishing its fifteen component bills, one-at-a-time, on our Comment pages today and tomorrow. Read more: http://is.gd/5235m4

Nadine Dorries MP: Jettison Lords reform; Jettison gay marriage; and focus on jobs, crime and household bills.   “We need to jettison both the policy of gay marriage and Lords reform. Lords reform hasn’t really sunk into the public consciousness. They have heard the words but don’t know or understand what they mean and what’s more, they don’t care. It has absolutely zero relevance to the daily life of anyone, other than the Liberal Democrat party and the peers who sit in the House of Lords and, of course, our entire constitution. The net result of making Lords Reform a central plank of the Queens speech would make the Conservative party appear out of touch, inward looking and self interested. It needs to be scrapped first thing Tuesday morning.” Read more: http://is.gd/0UKKdt

Bruce Anderson: What should Cameron learn from so many lost Tory seats? Nothing.    “There is a lesson which all politicians should learn. Fewer than one third of the voters could be bothered to turn out. Much of the sovereign people is in a mood of angry apathy. But it would be most unwise of the Tories to be seen to appease it. That would give the impression of panic, which is why Mr Cameron should learn no lessons from Thursday’s results, except the ones which he ought to have learned already. What the public want from him is strong leadership and good government, reinforced by the sense that he is on their side: that his priorities are their priorities; his values, their values; his Britain, their Britain.” Read more: http://is.gd/FoaJ9Z

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