It’s exactly 100 years since a group of Conservative MPs decided to break away from the Lloyd George Coalition thereby triggering the 1922 General Election. The following April a bunch of the ‘newbies’ formed a small dining club which soon developed into a ginger group of active backbenchers. By 1926 all backbench MPs were invited to become members and it has met every Wednesday at 5pm in Committee Room 14 ever since. It’s a useful forum for funnelling through to the leadership and Cabinet what backbenchers are thinking, and by that means can be very influential in changing Government policy.
The ‘22’ as it is known comes to particular prominence when the ‘men in grey suits’ call on the PM to tell them that their ‘time is up’ and then arrange the subsequent leadership election process as the Chairman Sir Graham Brady has had to do on four occasions on his watch (Cameron, May, Johnson and Truss). I was particularly pleased that two constituents were able to come to London for the centenary celebrations together with some fascinating memorabilia of the lady’s grandfather, Colonel Sir Leslie Wilson, who was one of the founding members.
I get occasional complaints that my weekly column does not on every occasion focus on the ‘real’ issues - poverty, health, education, transport, preferring more esoteric content like the history of the 1922 Committee. Well all I would say is that the Column is not supposed to be a lengthy (and doubtless very boring) encyclopaedia of current government policy, so much as a sideways glance into it. After all, I am not a Government Minister with responsibility for the great policies of the day. My only job is to represent the people of North Wiltshire and to argue for those things which will be of benefit locally.
I have been very active this week, for example, on the issue of the migrants currently housed in the Wiltshire Golf Club Hotel near Royal Wootton Bassett. In a Zoom call on the matter, my colleagues in Wiltshire who are Government ministers felt constrained to lay out the reasons for these hotels and migrants in general. My freedom from Ministerial office meant that I was allowed to differ and to shout the local corner.
After all, I am not the voice of Government in North Wiltshire so much as the voice of North Wiltshire to Government (and that would be the case no matter which party formed the Government). I had a very bright bunch of students from Box School up in Parliament during the week and sought to explain how an MP is not directly responsible for everything (they were very concerned about litter and traffic speeds, for example), but that we can be a useful influencer for local people. If you go into politics believing that you are going to change the world, then you are in for a sore disappointment. But if you do your best to change things round the margins, make life just a little better in one way or another, then you can reasonably hope to achieve a few things.
The 1922 Committee (amongst dozens of other mechanisms in Parliament) is a good of way of getting your views known. I am glad of its existence and salute the Chairman and officers for all they do to give a voice to we backbenchers.