In British politics the Conservative Private Members' Committee (known informally as the 1922 Committee) is a body of Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs). Executive membership and officers are by consensus limited to backbench MPs, although since 2010 frontbench Conservative MPs have an open invitation to attend meetings.[n 1] The committee meets every week while the UK parliament is in session, and provides a way for Conservative backbenchers to coordinate and discuss their views based on their constituents' and personal views, independently of frontbenchers. The committee can also have an important role in choosing the party leader (and thus Prime Minister when the Conservatives are in government). The group was formed in 1923, but first became important after 1940 . It is generally been closely related to the leadership, and under the control of party whips.
Committee constitutional matters
The 1922 Committee has an 18-member executive committee, the chairman of which must oversee any election of a new party leader, or any Conservative party-led vote of confidence in respect of the current one; such a vote can be triggered by 15 percent of Conservative MPs writing a letter to the chairman asking for such a vote. This process was invoked most recently on 28 October 2003, when 25 MPs requested a vote of confidence in Iain Duncan Smith by writing to the chairman, then Michael Spicer. Duncan Smith lost the vote the next day.
The committee was formed in 1923 but takes its name from the 1922 general election. The name does not stem from a famous 19 October 1922 meeting at the Carlton Club in which Conservative MPs successfully demanded that the party withdraw from the coalition government of David Lloyd George. The resolution passed at that meeting triggered the general election which the Conservative Party won — the many new Conservative MPs elected for the first time formed the Conservative Private Members' Committee to discuss and influence political events.
The MPs who founded the Committee were not the same as those who had taken the decision to end the 1916-22 Coalition government. It began as a small dining group of new members in 1922, then moved on to be a ginger group of active backbenchers. After the 1923 and 1924 elections, the membership expanded as more new Conservative MPs were elected, and in 1926 all backbench MPs were invited to become members. Consequently, it became a platform for the majority rather than a focus for discontent.
On 19 May 2010, shortly after the Conservatives had formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested altering the Committee to involve ministers (frontbenchers) in the recommendation forming process, angering some backbench MPs. On 20 May 2010, Committee members voted to approve the change, with 168 votes in favour and 118 against. Many backbench party members criticised the move and voted against it, while ministers had argued such a change would be necessary to continue operating coherently as a party during its membership of a coalition government.
However, under its new chairman Graham Brady, it was clarified shortly after that vote that although frontbenchers are now able to attend meetings of the Committee, only backbenchers would be able to vote for its officers and executive committee, similarly to the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Recent media coverage
In July 2011, after addressing the House of Commons in the wake of James and Rupert Murdoch's parliamentary testimony in the News International phone hacking scandal, Cameron was reported to have been received enthusiastically by the Committee, later that night.
A second Guardian report on this supportive reception stated that "reporters ... outside" were a probably intended audience for the show and that Cameron's support amongst Tories was still at least to some degree shaken by the News International-related events. Without naming names, the report asserted:
"Many [party members in Commons] complain that they cannot use the 1922 Committee ... without being briefed against for doing so."
On 20 December 2012, The Spectator seemed to cast little doubt on backbenchers speaking their minds at meetings. At the party leader's end-of-year address to the Committee, one MP freely said his party needed to learn a lesson from what had happened regarding Andrew Mitchell, other members in Committee meetings earlier in the year having "expressed concerns about Mitchell that contributed to his decision to resign".
Current executive committee
As of 3 June 2015, the executive committee comprised:
- Vice chairmen
- Executive Members:
- Sir Gervais Rentoul (1923–1932)
- William Morrison (1932–1935)
- Sir Hugh O'Neill, 1st Baronet (1935–1939)
- Patrick Spens (1939–1940)
- Sir Alexander Erskine-Hill (1940–1944)
- Sir John McEwen (1944–1945)
- Arnold Gridley (1946–1951)
- Derek Walker-Smith (1951–1955)
- John Morrison (1955–1964)
- Sir William Anstruther-Gray, 1st Baronet (1964–1966)
- Sir Arthur Vere-Harvey (1966–1970)
- Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (1970–1972)
- Sir Edward du Cann (1972–1984)
- Cranley Onslow (1984–1992)
- Sir Marcus Fox (1992–1997)
- Sir Archie Hamilton (1997–2001)
- Sir Michael Spicer (2001–2010)
Notes and references
- Starting between 2003 and 2005, while the party was in opposition, frontbench MPs other than the party leader began also by invitation to attend its meetings.
- Leadership Elections: Conservative Party p. 8
- John Ramsden (1998) An Appetite for Power – A History of the Conservative Party since 1830 ISBN 0 00 255686 3 p287
- "1922 Committee","Political Notes", The Times, 22 December 1926, p. 12.
- "Cameron angers MPs with bid to change 1922 Committee". BBC News. BBC. 19 May 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
- "1922 Committee: David Cameron wins vote on rule change". BBC News. 20 May 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- BBC News Brady elected as Tories' 1922 Committee chairman
- Watt, Nicholas (22 July 2011). "James Murdoch stands by evidence he gave Commons committee". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
- Helm, Toby and Daniel Boffey (24 July 2011). "How phone hacking scandal took the shine off the Prime Minister". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-07-24.
- Read. "Mitchell row could make MPs think again before criticising a colleague in trouble". Blogs.spectator.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-04.
- Ball, Stuart. "The 1922 Committee: the formative years 1922–45." Parliamentary History 9#1 (1990): 129-157.
- Goodhart, Philip, and Ursula Branston. The 1922: the story of the Conservative backbenchers' parliamentary committee (Macmillan, 1973).