In Depth

The 1922 Committee: what is it and why does it matter to Theresa May

Influential Tory backbench group can determine leader’s fate

Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence this evening which could see her ousted from Number 10 before the day is out.

At the centre of the drama gripping Westminster is the archaic-sounding but all-important group of backbench Tory MPs, known as the 1922 Committee, which will ultimately decide the prime minister’s fate.

So who is on the Committee and why is it so critical to May’s future?

What is the 1922 Committee?

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.

Its chair, usually a senior MP, is elected by committee members and has considerable influence within the parliamentary party.

Conservative cabinets and shadow cabinets are expected to take the views of the committee very seriously. If a Conservative leader were to lose the support of the committee, it could leave them in a vulnerable position. As The Sun explains: “It is the committee that assesses, organises and ballots on leadership challenges - meaning its power, when called upon, can be huge.”

In summary, the group has the ability to determine a Tory leader’s fate before the electorate has a chance, adds the New Statesman.

How did it get its name?

Formally known as the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, it takes its colloquial name from a meeting of Conservative MPs that took place on 19 October 1922. The MPs successfully ended the party’s coalition with the Liberals, bringing down the government of David Lloyd George. The resulting general election was won by the Tories.

Who chairs the 1922 Committee?

The current chairman is Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West, who was appointed in May 2010. Graham has previously served as a shadow minister, holding the schools, employment and Europe briefs.

Why is it so important now?

With May unlikely to stand down of her volition, the only way a group of rebels can mount a leadership challenge is by calling a vote of no confidence. This can only be triggered if 48 Tory MPs - 15% of the parliamentary party - write a letter to Brady calling for the vote.

This last happened in 2003. Iain Duncan Smith was ousted from his role as Conservative leader a day later.

Rumours have long circulated that the number of letters sent to Brady was nearing the crucial 48 mark – although Brady himself has remained tight-lipped.

After a very public attempt by hardline Brexiteers to trigger a vote of no confidence failed last month, the magic number was finally reached yesterday.

Given the extreme sensitivity of the current political climate, Brady has expedited the process, with Tory MPs set to vote on Theresa May’s leadership at 6pm tonight – and the result expected around 9pm.

What happens then?

“The big question for May’s internal critics is whether enough Tory MPs have now swung against her to actually oust her from No. 10” says Politico’s Jack Blanchard

The reason there has been no leadership challenge up until now is that while the rebels knew they had enough support to trigger a confidence vote, they are thought to have been well short of the 158 Tory MPs needed to win it – that is, one more than half the total number of Conservative MPs.

“So it's significant that there is a shift in the Tory mood among middle-ground opinion in the parliamentary party” writes Stephen Bush in the New Statesman.

This large group of predominantly Remain-voting Tories has become exasperated with May’s secretive deal making, perceived lack of leadership, and threat of a no deal Brexit. The last-minute move to withdraw her crunch Brexit bill appears to have been the final straw.

All of this makes tonight’s vote hard to predict.

If May loses, she will not be allowed to stand again and Brady would have to organise a new leadership election.

If she wins, as the latest odds suggest, she will remain as leader and can not be challenged for at least another 12 months.

However, there is a third option, as happened with Margaret Thatcher, that May wins a vote of no confidence but more than 100 of her MPs vote against her. This means she would have effectively lost the support of a large portion of her own party, in which case she might decide to stand down.

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