The 1922 committee: inside the powerful – but little understood – slayer of Conservative PMs

Since 2010, extra Prime Ministers have resigned following a go to by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, than have resigned due to the actions of electors.  David Cameron is the one one to fall within the latter class, leaving workplace in 2016 as a result of electors backed ‘depart’ within the referendum on membership of the European Union.  Theresa Might, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss every stood in Downing Avenue to announce their departure after Sir Graham had instructed them that their time was up.

The 1922 Committee is now as a lot a slayer as it’s a maker of Conservative Get together leaders, but regardless of its significance in British politics, it’s a physique that’s little studied and sometimes misunderstood.  To date, just one full-length ebook about ‘the 1922’ has been revealed and that was fifty years in the past.  When it has been talked about within the media, memoirs and textbooks it has usually been to get flawed each the date of its formation and the explanation for it coming into being.

It’s not uncommon to see references to the 1922 Committee as being based in 1922 and it taking its title and motivation from a gathering of Conservative MPs on the Carlton Membership in October 1922, when the MPs defied the get together management and voted to go away the Lloyd George coalition.  As soon as fashioned, the Committee was seen as having a task in eradicating a celebration chief, with a go to by grandees of the 1922 – ‘the lads in gray fits’ – delivering the coup de grâce.  These claims haven’t solely been made by commentators, however at instances by main figures of the 1922 Committee.  The issue is that none of them is true.

The 1922 Committee was not fashioned in 1922.  Its title derives from the truth that it was created by some MPs first elected within the normal election of November 1922.   The Conservative Non-public Members (1922) Committee – which grew to become popularly often known as the 1922 Committee – was the concept of the MP for Lowestoft, Gervais Rentoul.  He invited different newly-elected Tory MPs to a gathering on 18 April 1923.  They elected Rentoul as chairman and met once more on 23 April to elect different officers and an government committee in addition to agree the ideas of the physique.


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Its formation was nothing to do with the assembly of Tory MPs on the Carlton Membership.  It was fashioned to assist new MPs perceive the norms and procedures of Westminster.  As soon as elected, MPs had been left to their very own gadgets to seek out their means spherical and make sense of what was taking place.  As Rentoul wrote in his autobiography, ‘new M.P.s quickly started to understand, as many have completed earlier than, the entire insignificance of an inexperienced rank-and-file member misplaced within the maze of parliamentary process’.   It was set as much as allow the brand new arrivals perceive and take ‘a extra lively curiosity and half in Parliamentary life’.  Membership was later opened as much as all Tory MPs, apart from the chief and, when in authorities, ministers.

Till 1965, Tory leaders got here into workplace by way of a technique of ‘emergence’ and gave up workplace after they had been outdated, ailing or floor down by political pressures.  None, although, left workplace due to a visitation by ‘the lads in gray fits’.  It was solely after the introduction of guidelines for election – and later elimination – by MPs that the 1922 Committee grew to become a significant pressure in figuring out the destiny of get together leaders.  Certainly, the introduction of guidelines for election reworked the 1922 Committee.

The 1922 had an uneven historical past till 1965.  It had declined in significance within the Nineteen Thirties after which grow to be an vital physique in wartime and since, fulfilling a variety of features, together with influencing coverage outcomes and ministerial careers.  In 1965, guidelines had been launched for electing the chief, the method policed by the chairman of the 1922.   In 1975, the principles had been modified to allow MPs to vote a pacesetter out of workplace.  Additional adjustments occurred in 1998.  These supplied that MPs would choose two candidates to be positioned earlier than get together members, with eliminating ballots being held to pick out the 2 within the occasion that there have been greater than two placing their names ahead.  The chief of the 1922 decided what number of signatures an MP wanted to be entered within the poll.

These rule adjustments made the 1922 a robust physique in figuring out who was to guide the Conservative Get together and, usually subsequently, who was to be Prime Minister.  The 1998 adjustments launched successfully a component of instability.  A candidate might come second within the closing poll of MPs with a bit over 30 per cent of the votes – as occurred with Iain Duncan Smith in 2001 and Liz Truss in 2022 – and but be elected as chief by the get together membership.  A pacesetter might thus enter workplace with out the total backing of the get together’s MPs.  Beneath the 1998 guidelines, these MPs can vote out the chief in a vote of no confidence, a vote triggered if 15 per cent of MPs write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee requesting a poll.  Consequently, uneasy lies the pinnacle that carries the Tory crown.  These adjustments are additionally the explanation Sir Graham Brady grew to become such a distinguished public determine in 2022, frequently being requested by journalists the one query he was by no means going to reply: ‘What number of letters have you ever acquired Sir Graham?’

In April of this 12 months, the 1922 Committee reached its centenary.  It has come a great distance since a number of new, considerably bewildered MPs gathered and fashioned a self-help group.  It has grow to be a significant political physique, however one that continues to be little understood.

Lord Norton’s centenary historical past of the 1922 Committee – The 1922 Committee: Energy Behind the Scenes – will likely be revealed by Manchester College Press in October.