Wednesday, 19 May 2010

1922 and all that

The name of the 1922 Committee speaks to the enduring pride of the Tory Parliamentary party in its backbench revolt which overthrew a Coalition, ending their strange cohabitation with a Liberal Prime Minister in a Tory-dominated Commons, so putting a proper Tory government in its place.

So this seems a telling moment for a pre-emptive strike by today's Tory leadership to neuter their backbenchers.

The 1922 Carlton Club uprising was much influenced by the Quiet Man of his day, Stanley Baldwin. As the revolt was against the wishes of the Tory leadership of Austen Chamberlain and his progressive Conservative frontbench, it led to the unknown Prime Minister leading a "government of the second eleven", as Churchill archly dubbed it.

Think David Davis, ably assisted by Graham Brady, Douglas Carswell and perhaps Christopher Chope too.

Many of today's backbenchers will have nursed hopes that the rhetorical "invitation to the join the government of Britain" heralded by the Tory manifesto might take rather more specific form in their own case. Since they have, by definition, been disappointed, they may not take too kindly to the frontbench now inviting itself into the counsels of the backbenchers.

David Cameron is relying on the party's deference to a newly elected Premier, though may be somewhat pushing his luck given the rumblings about his failure to win on his party's own terms.

This episode again speaks to David Cameron's failure to have a Clause Four moment in his party, despite most commentators crediting him with one in the creation of his Coalition.

He has a considerably more centrist Coalition government by circumstance, not choice.

Even if he might now think that fits his personal political inclination and advantage, the official line is that it is a matter of regret.

And, instead of having the argument with his party, he proceeds by a tactical rulebook manouvere.

This blitzkreig on backbench rights and traditions again demonstrates that the great decentraliser certainly has an inner 'control freak' too.

It will distance Cameron further from his party. But perhaps he will see an advantage in that, as he increasingly presents his Coalition as a National Government, putting party interest aside.

And Cameron also knows that his party is not broadly popular. Indeed that, despite what his party thinks, is a major reason why he did not win outright. The campaign was all about him because it could never be about them at all. Yet, still, that it fell short was as much about the folk memory of them (the 'same old Tories') as due to his own lack of definition of his argument for 'change'.

The Tory grumblings these days will be heard as much in the Spectator CoffeeHouse, ConservativeHome and the blogosphere rather than in the Carlton Club itself.

Yet it seems clear that Cameron's judgement is that, unlike in 1922, they have nowhere else to go.


UPDATE: Paul Waugh had already used the title '1922 and all that' for his own post on the history of the '22, noting that it was founded in 1923 by the newly elected Tory class of 1922, elected after the Carlton Club rebellion.

1 comment:

Stuart White said...

What I don't understand is how Cameron thinks he can somehow abolish the freedom of association of his backbenchers. So let's say he succeeds in expanding the 1922 Committee in the way he wants. What is to stop the Tory backbenchers forming a new committee, with membership restricted to backbenchers, which will be the old 1922 Committee in all but name? Is Cameron going to ban his backbenchers from forming any such new committee? Is it, at the end of the day, even feasible to stop the backbenchers associating independentely if that is what they want?