Is the 1922 Committee chair working hand in glove with the prime minister?by Tom Clark / December 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
The purpose of a knighthood in British public life is supposed to be to put one above the fray. From cash-for-coronets to MPs’ expenses, when scandal hits Westminster the time-honoured way is to entrust what happens next to a Sir Alistair, Sir Christopher or a Sir Thomas. The relevant knight of the realm is presented as being of such self-evident integrity and independence, that there can—surely—be no question about them working to any agenda aside from the public interest. But it’s always worth pausing to reflect on who conferred that knighthood in the first place—and never more so than with the chair of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
The 1922 Committee was, historically, the institutional expression of the independent clout of Conservative backbenchers. It came into existence a few months after the famous Carlton Club meeting in October 1922, at which Tory backbenchers pulled the plug on Lloyd George’s post-First World War coalition government, and the party leadership of Austen Chamberlain. Originally, it was for the new cohort of MPs elected at the subsequent November general election, but in time it would come to encompass the entire backbench. When, during the 1960s the question of the leadership formally passed from the Crown (yes, really) to parliamentarians, the 1922 became more important, assuming responsibility for running the ballot of MPs, the most famous of which produced the inconclusive result that did for Margaret Thatcher in 1990.
A couple of changes since—David Cameron’s insistence serving ministers could attend in 2010, and William Hague’s overhaul of the electoral system that theoretically handed power to party members—could have weakened the 1922, but in practice they haven’t done so. In two of the four leadership elections since the Hague changes (2003 and 2016) Tory MPs have rallied unanimously to a single candidate thereby ensuring that it is they who retain the final say.
And Sir Graham is indeed today—in theory—the personal embodiment of all those MPs’ authority. He is, as we have all learned, the postbox to which 48 or more of them have sent in their letters, and also a shop steward representing the parliamentary workforce, even if that is not the language in which many Tory MPs would describe themselves. But from the moment he gave his BBC radio interview…