There are just six days left before the Commons rises for recess but there’s still time for one last election. The 1922 Committee, that bastion of Tory backbenchers, is currently holding elections to fill two vacant slots on its executive, with the results announced on Tuesday. Ministers, whips and paid vice chairmen of the party do not participate in voting.
Both slots are for the position of vice chairman, with one being caused by the death of former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan in April and the other triggered by the decision of Sir Charles Walker to step down after 11 years in the post. The elections come less than a fortnight after 1922 chairman Sir Graham Brady narrowly secured his re-election, having been given quite the scare by challenger Heather Wheeler.
Steerpike understands that the final winning margin of votes was more than 10 but less than 20, with Wheeler’s hugely effective under-the-radar operation poised to pull off an upset until media briefings belatedly alerted Brady’s team to the danger she posed. The result has left some ill-will on both sides, with Wheeler’s team confident she had the votes.
Brady and Walker have served alongside each other on the executive since 2010 so Tuesday’s contest will offer the chance to to inject some (relatively) new blood into the ’22. All three came into Parliament having known no other chairman of the committee and are drawn from the 2010 or 2015 intakes:
– Pauline Latham, 73. Elected 2010 for Mid Derbyshire. Prior to entering Parliament she had a long history in local government and led social action projects in Uganda. A lifelong backbencher, Latham is an ERG member who voted against Theresa May’s deal on the first two occasions but supported it on the third. She is part of the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs and a supporter of Esther McVey in the 2019 Tory leadership contest. Latham served more than a decade on international development select committees and was one of 24 Tories to vote against the 0.7 per cent aid cut on Tuesday.
– William Wragg, 33. Elected 2015 for Hazel Grove. An MP at the age of just 27, baby-faced Wragg was previously a school teacher and local councillor. Another member of the ERG who, like Latham, co-signed the Common Sense Group’s letter to the Telegraph criticising the National Trust. Wragg was elected chairman of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee just after the 2019 election in which capacity he has earned a reputation for unhelpful interventions to ministers. Last year he become a member of the steering group of the lockdown-skeptic Covid Recovery Group.
– Nus Ghani, 48. Elected 2015 for Wealden. Born in Kashmir, she worked for charities and the BBC World Service prior to her selection in an open primary in 2013. A former Whip, Ghani was the first female Muslim minister to speak from the Commons dispatch box when she served as the Transport under secretary. She was surprisingly sacked despite being tipped to oversee HS2 construction in February last year and has since then become a leading critic of Beijing, describing next year’s winter Olympics as the ‘Genocide Olympics.’ Like Wragg, she is also a steering committee member of the Covid Recovery Group.
Thus far the contest has been noticeable for how little attention it has attracted, either on line in the press. Some limited lobbying is being done in person in the members’ tea room. Other ‘get out the vote’ drives are happening via the medium of WhatsApp with plenty of messages and letters from those standing now flying around various groups.
Overall however it appears the contest has been something of a non-event – even for those Tory MPs which comprise the electorate. Asked for their thoughts, one backbencher replied dryly they did not have ‘much thought about it all’ and described it as ‘a non-event’ while another added ‘I’m not in the least bit bothered – not even sure who’s standing.’
Devoid of the ideological frisson that has underpinned past elections, this one seems likely to be decided on the strength of personal relationships. The 2019 intake for instance, which Heather Wheeler took such pains to court, do not have a joint candidate in the way that after the 2010 election, modernising first-term MPs ran a slate to replace the 1922’s ‘old guard.’ Steerpike has spoken to 2019-ers who are all voting for different candidates with new boy confirming to Mr S ‘I voted for those I know’ while a Red Wall Tory added his vote was ‘just based on personal relationships and judgement really’ rather than issues like grievances with IPSA.
The lockdown skeptics are likely to back Wragg and Ghani for obvious reasons while the latter will also likely attract support from the China Research Group. All three contenders have demonstrated a willingness to rebel in this parliament though as one new boy remarked to Steerpike ‘a lot of the new intake aren’t massively impressed with ex-ministers continually voting against the government for the sake of it.’ If anything, the contest shows just how difficult it is to get an accurate gauge on the mood within the parliamentary party, given how little contact new MPs have had with older members.
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