What it is
In 1922 the coalition between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party in The United Kingdom was breaking down. Despite Liberal’s willingness to continue, the Conservatives formally ended the pact. This led to some organisational changes that needed to be made within the Party, the most important of these was the forming of the Conservative and Union Members Committee, which became the principle organisation within the Conservative Party.
Often called the 1922 committee, it is a sort of trade union for Tory MPs in which they can discuss what the general consensus of the backbenchers is to be. It is the rough equivalent of the Labour Party’s PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) but is less inclusive. When the Conservatives are in power, Ministers do not have the right to attend unless specifically invited. When in opposition, all members of the Party are allowed to attend, and it is from the 1922 committee that the Shadow Cabinet is formed. Tory Lords are not allowed to attend even by invitation.
What it does
The duties of the 1922 committee are as follows:
- To inform the party leadership of the mood of Tory Backbenchers
- To rally support for Conservative policy
- To lend support to Conservative members of the cabinet or shadow cabinet deemed to be fulfilling the demands of their position and to decide what action must be taken with regard to those on who are not.
- To represent the views of Conservative constituents.
How it’s organised
The 1922 committee is run by Conservative MPs who have been elected to its Executive Committee. The chairman of this committee is a very influential figure, he is essentially the leader of the backbenchers and so if a senior party member falls out of favour with him, it can mean the end of that member’s career.
Under the reforms instigated by William Hague, if fifteen percent of the Conservative Members of Parliament submit a letter demanding a vote of confidence in the current leader to the Chairman of the Executive Committee, a vote is triggered. Should the leader be ousted, the Chairman is in charge of running the election of a new Tory leader and appointing him or her to office. This system was put into practice with the rejection of Iain Duncan Smith in October 2003.
Despite its reputation for being somewhat shadowy and secretive, the 1922 Committee is a central part of the organisation of what is currently the second most important party in British Politics.