What is the 1922 Committee - and will it oust Boris Johnson?

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What is the 1922 Committee - and will it oust Boris Johnson?
© Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images Tory MP Graham Brady Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

Influential group of Tory backbenchers could play a key role in no confidence vote

As Boris Johnson faces resignation calls from Tory MPs, speculation is rife about the role that the mysterious 1922 Committee may play amid the fallout of the “partygate” scandal.

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    The group of backbench Conservatives have been a thorn in the side of multiple Conservative leaders, whipping up opposition among disgruntled politicians and forcing a string of resignations.

    What is the 1922 Committee?

    Currently led by Altrincham and Sale West MP Graham Brady, the 1922 Committee’s main function is to keep the leadership of the party informed of the mood of Conservative backbenchers. The group meets every week when Parliament is in session and gives backbench Tory MPs the chance to air their concerns, report on constituency work and coordinate legislative agendas.

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    Committee members elect their chair, who is usually a senior MP and has considerable influence within the parliamentary party.

    The chair is also “sometimes the person who presents unpopular leaders with their marching orders, when the troops have lost faith”, said the BBC’s parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy.

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    The 1922 group “assesses, organises and ballots on leadership challenges – meaning its power, when called upon, can be huge”, said The Sun.

    This power was displayed when the committee brought a motion of no confidence against Theresa May in December 2018. The then prime minister narrowly survived the Commons vote but resigned four months later. 

    Iain Duncan Smith’s reign as Tory leader also ended following a confidence vote, after then 1922 chair Michael Spicer received enough letters from Tory rebels to trigger the contest back in 2003. The Conservative chief was ousted the following day.

    How did the name come about?

    Formally known as the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, the colloquial name of the group is often assumed to come from a meeting of Conservative MPs that took place on 19 October 1922.

    The gathering successfully ended the party’s then coalition with the Liberals, bringing down the government of David Lloyd George. The Tories won the subsequent general election.

    However, the group was actually set up the following year by MPs elected in the 1922 general election, in order to “facilitate cooperation within the party”, according to the parliamentary website.

    Could the committee oust Johnson?

    “It is an oddity of Conservative politics that Johnson’s future as the prime minister of the UK could rest on whether 54 of his colleagues decide they are better off without him,” said The Times’ policy editor Oliver Wright. 

    If MPs do decide they would be better off with a different leader in No. 10, the 1922 Committee is likely to play a crucial role in registering their discontent. 

    Any Tory MP who thinks a PM is no longer fit to hold the office, or can no longer command the party, can send in a letter to the 1922 Committee calling for a vote of no confidence. MPs can do this either by handing a letter directly to Brady, or following a rules update in December, by emailing him registering their loss of confidence.

    If 15% of Tory MPs – which currently equates to 54 – submit these written requests, a formal no-confidence vote is triggered. But “facing such a vote does not guarantee a prime minister’s downfall and even losing it does not force him or her out immediately,” said The Times’ Wright.

    Johnson would need to win the confidence vote by a simple majority to stay on as leader, and could not be subjected to a further leadership challenge for another year.

    If he lost the vote, a leadership race would be launched, in which he would not be allowed to stand. The winner would become the next PM.

    The 1922 Committee has long played a “key role” in Conservative Party history, said Bloomberg. 

    While the downfall of Margaret Thatcher was prompted by the departure of her deputy prime minister Geoffrey Howe, it “was her ministers’ advice that she wouldn’t survive a second 1922 Committee ballot on her leadership” that led to her resignation.

    The Committee also caused problems for John Major, who the group felt “embodied Tory opposition to closer ties with Europe”, the news site continued. And while David Cameron sought in 2010 to “dilute” the committee’s influence “by opening up its membership”, he “failed” and Brady’s reign as chair began.

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