Peter Carrington

A sensible committee

Regular readers will know that I am not a fan of committees. However sometimes a committee needs to be formed. Then they are essential and useful.

In the past they?have?had?innocuous?titles…like the Te Puke Bypass Committee. All political parties have these committees at some stage…Labour’s?last real one was the fish and chip brigade.

In the UK there was one such committee formed of back benchers in 1922 that disposed of a Prime Minister.

The Tories kept their committee and it still exists with its cool name…perhaps this is something needed here:

How fitting that the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers is still threatening the careers of Cabinet ministers and party grandees ? even if the Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, managed to escape with his political life yesterday.

If a rowdy meeting of Tory backbenchers calls for your resignation at the 1922 committee, you have to go. All sorts of things can upset them: incompetence, a lurid private life ? or they may decide that they just don?t like your style. That is what happened with the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George in 1922.

Then, as now, the Tories were in coalition with the Liberals. Then, as now, there were savage cuts ? defence spending slashed by 42 per cent and Civil Service numbers by 35 per cent on the advice of Sir Eric Geddes, a Lloyd George appointee. But it was Lloyd George?s high-handedness that the Tory backbenchers loathed. History does not relate whether he knew the price of milk, but his arrogance was beyond question.

At a meeting in the Conservative Carlton Club, Stanley Baldwin, later Tory PM, noted that Lloyd George was ?a dynamic force? but added: ?A dynamic force is a very terrible thing; it may crush you but it is not necessarily right.? Lloyd George fell, and after a general election a new intake of Tory backbenchers formally set up the 1922 committee the following year. Since then it has chalked up a long list of victims.

The roll call includes Margaret Thatcher?s foreign secretary Peter Carrington, who stepped down over the Falklands. Lord Carrington wrote: ?I had attended a fairly disagreeable meeting of the 1922 committee and although nobody shouted for my resignation I know that within the Conservative Party itself, my remaining in office was not going to help the PM with her supporters.? The 1922 also ended the careers of David Mellor, whose love life hit the headlines; Leon Brittan, who resigned after the Westland affair; and Iain Duncan Smith, whose period as Tory leader was brought to a close by the committee.

As luck would have it, the 1922 executive meets every Wednesday at 4pm before a general meeting at 5pm. And after that? The officers of the committee have a meeting with ?er? the chief whip, currently Andrew ?Thrasher? Mitchell.

Ironically, yesterday?s attack on Thrasher by Ed Miliband will have helped shore up his position. Mr Miliband described Mr Mitchell as ?toast? ? and no Tory would want to prove the Labour leader right. Yet the Chief Whip had better watch it. If the backbenchers lose confidence in him, then one fine Wednesday evening at about 6pm? he will be the first to know.