For the past six years, the 1922 Conservative Party Committee of Deputies has been at the center of events. This powerful committee traditionally hides behind the scenes and in the political shadows, but as we have seen, it suddenly emerges and takes on a more important role.

The committee’s origins date back to the last days of the post-war coalition government (1918-22) and the intrigue of Conservative MPs anxious to end their political association with Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

As the war wore on, the coalition became more difficult to maintain because of ambitious politicians such as Stanley Baldwin (the future Prime Minister) campaigning from within the Conservative ranks to further their own political ambitions.

In October 1922, in the opulent surroundings of the historic Carlton Club in central London, as Lloyd George’s coalition held on for four years after the end of the First World War, Conservative backbenchers voted to end its long run. They created the conditions for the Conservatives to once again form a single party government led primarily by Andrew Bonnar Law.

This reflected the Conservative Party’s traditional and often ruthless focus on gaining and maintaining power, and it would set a precedent for how the 1922 Committee would seek to promote party interests rather than personal feelings in later years.

The committee’s functional role came into effect after the next general election in 1923 a few months later, based on demands for the admission of MPs in 1922 “to facilitate co-operation within the party”.

When the Conservative Party ruled alone or in coalition for about two-thirds of the next hundred years, the 1922 Committee played an important role in many major political events, remaining close to the center of power in Westminster.

The 1922 Committee, often referred to as “the men (and increasingly women) in the gray suits”, in its modern form consists of eighteen Conservative MPs, headed by an executive group of six.

The focus of the 1922 Committee on members of the backbench of Parliament alone is the most important and distinctive feature of this body. This provides her with a certain autonomy and control in her often difficult relationship with the party leadership.

The only time senior party figures or ministers were involved in running the 1922 Committee was during the Second World War emergency, but this temporary arrangement ended after the conflict ended.

Efforts by David Cameron in 2010 to give ministers and leaders more formal influence and involvement in the 1922 Committee met with fierce resistance and were ultimately rejected.

As such, the 1922 Committee remains the definitive backbench Conservative voice at Westminster, and its various powers are revered and fiercely guarded by its members. History shows that prime ministers will be in serious trouble if they lose the support of this body.

At a functional level, the 1992 Committee organizes all Conservative leadership contests, and its chairman publicly announces the results. The position of chairman is usually reserved for an experienced bencher, usually a knight of the realm.

The Chairman of the 1922 Committee has often become a prominent and familiar figure in the media during times of crisis, notably Sir Marcus Fox during the Thatcher and Major era in the early to mid-1990s and Sir Graham Brady in recent years.

All recent Conservative Prime Ministers have seen their support in the 1922 Committee ebb and flow. The committee had a front row seat during Margaret Thatcher’s departure in 1990, John Major’s leadership challenge in 1995, Iain Duncan Smith’s ouster in 2003, Theresa May’s departure in 2018 and finally the recent and somewhat reluctant departure of Boris Johnson in 2022 .

Based on the current unprecedented economic and political crisis, Liz Truss may well soon join this somewhat ignominious list.

Given the track record of the 1992 Committee, current committee members may well be sharpening their metaphorical knives to facilitate further dramatic policy changes in the coming weeks.

The 1922 Committee – Its Origins and Power

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