The usually reticent eminence grise of the Conservative party, the 1922 Committee, just cannot keep itself out of the news at the moment.
Yesterday was election day, when Conservative backbenchers could choose the people they wish to represent them on the 1922’s Executive Committee. The committee meets weekly, and meets the Prime Minister regularly to update him with backbench opinion. It might have to lobby for more time for backbench debates, or warn that a chosen Coalition measure might not get the full Conservative support it needs. They might need to arrange meetings for Cabinet members to consult colleagues before doing something, or for Ministers to convince colleagues about something they have announced. It is not a policy making body or cabinet. The committee allows backbench Conservatives to let off steam about aspects of government, without their comments making headlines.
Individual MPs usually put up for election. They might write a personal letter saying what they wish to do in the job to each elector. They might talk to a few colleagues to ensure a reasonable level of support. Various MP dining clubs might discuss which of the various candidates would be best. That was as exciting as it got.
This time there were letters from a slate of candidiates saying they were all part of the 301 Group. I was also able to read a lot about them and their platform in the press, as they decided to brief the newspapers, which is why I mention it here.
The agenda is apparently to secure the election of 301 Conservative MPs in 2015. 301 is the magic number, because they assume the Commons will be down to 600 MPs in total by then, following the current boundary review. It’s an aim that no Conservative MP would disagree with, unless to say that maybe the party should aim for a more ambitious number to be safe. Their preferred method is to up the attack on Labour, and to use the official soundbites more regulary and loudly.
There are dangers increating a campaign group with a press arm. This time it has not led to anyone running an alternative public slate on an alternative manifesto. Some of the 301 ers have been elected, mainly because they are interesting people and it is a good idea to have some of the 2010 intake on the executive now they have been in the Commons for a couple of years. All the Executive members now need to show tact and discretion, whilst speaking truth to power in private as often as it needs doing. As we have discussed here before, to win an election a government needs to demonstrate success in its policies and actions, as well as speaking convincingly about the dangers of the alternative.