UK Conservatives: The scandal of the 1922 Committee putsch

By Norman Tebbit, The Telegraph

So we have entered the era of the Big Society, New Politics, consensus, decentralisation and power to the people. Everywhere, that is, except in the Conservative Party.

The 1922 Committee has a long and important history. Its rules have been clear. It is not for Ministers. The Prime Minister was not a member of the original 1922 Committee. Nor were other Ministers, or Whips. It was a forum for the backbenchers.

Mr Cameron did not like that arrangement. He was perfectly entitled to take the view that it should be changed. I think that he was wrong to do so, but then I have not been a Member of the Commons for nearly 20 years, and much has changed since that time. What has not changed, however, are the rules of natural justice.

For Mr Cameron to bounce the Parliamentary Party into a vote to change the rules to allow Minister and Whips (the payroll vote) to become voting members of the 1922 Committee is one thing. But to announce that he has unilaterally changed the rules to give them votes in an ballot to decide if they should have membership and votes in the 1922 is another.

The ballot opened half an hour after Mr Cameron’s announcement and closed at 11.00am this morning, which has to prompt the question, “What was the big hurry?”

One answer is that the ballot to elect the chairman of the 1922 is scheduled for next Wednesday and the payroll vote would be needed to ensure the successful candidate will be the choice of the Prime Minister and not that the of the backbenchers.

Mr Cameron’s proposal was declared carried by 168 votes to 118, making it obvious that the members of the backbench 1922 Committee must have been strongly opposed, but were outvoted because of the payroll vote. One has to expect a little discord now and again among Ministers in a coalition, but the contrast between Deputy Prime Minister Clegg’s breathless calls for political reform to give power to the people and the Prime Minister’s putsch against his own backbenchers is really going too far.

He has got away with it this week, and it will almost certainly be his nominee who will become Chairman next week. If so, the 1922 will be sorely, perhaps fatally, wounded.

Long Live the 2010 Committee!

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