The origins of the 1922 Committee

The media have been reporting the attempt by David Cameron to change the basis of membership of the 1922 Committee when the party is in government.  

Whenever the activities of the 1922 Committee hit the headlines, the media stories will invariably refer to it as ‘the influential’ 1922 Committee.  They will also tend to make a hash of explaining its origins.  The London Metro this morning was fairly characteristic of the breed: “The 1922 Committee, which takes its name from the year it was founded…”.   The Daily Telegraph claims it is “named after the 1922 general election, which was called after the Conservatives withdrew from a coalition government with David Lloyd George’s Liberals.”

If the Committee was named after the year it was founded, it would be called the 1923 Committee.   The 1922 Committee – more formally the Conservative Private Members’ (1922) Committee – acquired its name because it was formed by a group of Conservative MPs, led by Sir Gervais Rentoul, who were first elected in 1922.  The initial meeting to set up the committee took place in April 1923.  It was designed essentially as a self-help group for new Conservative Members.  It was expanded in the subsequent Parliament to incorporate the new intake of MPs before being opened to all Conservative Private Members – that is, all Conservative MPs other than the leader in Opposition and all Conservative MPs other than ministers when in Government.

Mind you, it is not only the media who get confused as to when and why the committee was founded.  In 1992, the 1922 Committee itself was considering holding a 70th anniversary celebration before it was pointed out that it would be a premature celebration.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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10 Responses to The origins of the 1922 Committee

  1. Jonathan says:

    I’ve always felt it’s a slightly unfortunate name. Given that the party has at various times been perceived as fusty and out-of-touch, having such a high profile committee named after a date nearly 90 years ago doesn’t help those promoting a more modern image.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Jonathan: The name is essentially the common name for the committee. As I mentioned, it was established as the Conservative Private Members’ (1922) Committee. During the period from 1943 ot 1945, when ministers were admitted to membership (see my response to Croft, below) it was known as the Conservative Members Committee.

  2. Croft says:

    Allowing front benchchers to join neuters any backbench body so I fundamentally disagree with the change

    Very confusing media reports about who was allowed to vote for this change of rules

    • Lord Norton says:

      Croft: I am trying to find out the basis on which the voting took place. It appears from the reports that the whips organised it and, from the voting figures, some ministers must have taken part in the ballot.

      • Croft says:

        That’s what I’d read – if ministers can’t vote I don’t see how they can vote to change the rules so they can vote! Does the ACP allow ministers?

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Indeed. As far as I can see, the ballot was organised by the whips, who have no standing in relation to the 1922 Committee, and those who voted – on whether ministers should be admitted to the 1922 – included ministers. In other words, the vote was not one of the 1922 Committee.

        You may have seen a letter in ‘The Times’ yesterday from Alistair Cooke pointing out that ministers were admitted to membership of the 1922 Committee in wartime. He says that ‘Churchill changed the role’ in the way that the current PM has proposed. Churchill was not responsible for the change. The 1922 Committee made the decision, in 1943, to admit ministers to membership. That was in line with its practice of determining for itself who it admitted to membership.

      • Croft says:

        I can’t help but be reminded of Talleyrand’s comment about the restored Bourbons that they had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. For as much as Europe was destabilising to the Tories in the late 80s and especially the 90s I always felt it was the corrosive effect of the separation of beliefs and values of the leadership and the MPs that was fatal. You can only whip, cajole threaten, bribe and appeal to party loyalty so many times when your MPs disagree with the policy before the damage become terminal. Cameron seems, far from tying to create a better and more robust relationship and communication system between the MPs/peers/party members, to be attacking those sources that exist in an attempt to kill opposition early on. I can’t see how this won’t end in tears!

  3. Can anything be said in favour of including the whole parliamentary party in the membership of the ’22 Committee?

    Most conservative commentators are damning (when Labour and Lib-Dem adversaries cheer, I get suspicious), but a full explanation is wanted.

    Previous reports that heralded a more democratic Commons due to the minority situation and the belief that new Conservative MPs were more independently minded than their predecessors seem to be premature assumptions.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Stephen MacLean: As I mentioned in response to Croft, the 1922 Committee decided in 1943 to admit ministers to membership. There were obviously particular conditions applying in wartime and there were strained relations in the circumstances where the parties formed a single coalition.

  4. Pingback: The formation of the 1922 Committee | The Norton View

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