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The frontrunners emerge for the post-election battle for the chairmanship of the 1922 Committee

One significant election set to take place soon after the general election is that for the chairmanship of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, since sitting chairman Sir Michael Spicer is standing down at the general election. Deemed to be the shop steward of the backbenchers, it is a role that will be hugely significant with a large new intake coming into the Commons at the general election - and all the more so if the party is in government and having to make tough decisions which could be unsettling for the new MPs who have just arrived.

The '22 Chairman has to act as a conduit between the backbenchers an the leadership - by no means representing the leadership to the parliamentary party, but rather funnelling their concerns to the leader and, if necessary, pressing for certain courses of action on their behalves. As such, it is a highly influential (though unpaid) position, especially when the party is in government.

The election of Sir Michael's successor will be a relatively swift affair, due to take place at the first meeting of the parliamentary party after the Queen's Speech. But the big unknown for those aspiring to fill his shoes is that as of today they do not know exactly who the electorate will be.

In Opposition, the entire parliamentary party gets to vote in such contests; but if the party is in government (as I certainly hope it will be), ministers are not entitled to vote. So if David Cameron forms a Conservative government, even with the smallest of majorities (or even without a Commons majority for that matter), two thirds of the electorate will not even have entered the Commons until after polling day: only half of the 161 sitting Tory MPs would remain on the backbenches and therefore still be entitled to vote, but there will be that massive influx of new blood - 53 MPs in what are already Conservative-held seats, and a number approaching or in excess of the 117 gains required to achieve that Commons majority.

WHITTINGDALE JOHNThe matter of who might succeed Sir Michael Spicer was briefly considered by the Evening Standard's Paul Waugh earlier in the week. He may have been my Blogger of 2009, but alas on this occasion he made a wrong call in suggesting that John Whittingdale, the DCMS select committee chairman and former political secretary to Margaret Thatcher, was "front runner" in the race. My analysis is that he most certainly is not, and is not even countenancing entering the contest this side of a general election, if at all.

Whittingdale is widely thought to still aspire to ministerial office, and if that were not to come to pass, the role at the helm of the DCMS committee - for which he is widely respected for the aplomb with which he carries it out - is one that he is expected to want to retain. Whilst there is nothing to say that being a select committee chairman procludes an MP from being chairman of the '22, I am picking up a widespread feeling among the existing parliamentary party that they feel it would be inappropriate: apart from the fact that select committee chairmen are paid and that this should therefore be, by definition, that individual's primary role, there is a sense that being '22 chairman after this election is going to be a particular challenge and require a considerable commitment of time and energy.

BRADY GRAHAM So rather than Whittingdale, the Right of the party are in fact beginning to rally around Graham Brady, the MP for Altrincham and Sale West since 1997. As such, he has never been in the parliamentary party whilst the Conservatives have been in government, but he has been a frontbencher in opposition, albeit resigning on a matter of principle over the leadership's opposition to the creation of new grammar schools in 2007. His supporters say that this proves his record of "the need to be robust on the things that matter", but that he would be committed to having a constructive relationship with David Cameron and helping to hold the party together. He has been a member of the Executive of the 1922 Committee since 2008, having also served on it between 1998 and 1999.

One MP sympathetic to Brady's cause tells me that it would be highly unfair to characterise him as a trouble maker, since he has by no means gone out of his way to be unhelpful to the party since his return to the backbenches (regularly turning down media opportunities to be so) and points out that on the issue of education he has a record of working consensually and constructively with the party leadership - illustrated, for example, by the visit Michael Gove made with him to a Trafford grammar school near his constituency in June 2008. His supporters are also making much of the fact that he is not only of David Cameron's generation (he is, at 42, just a year younger than the leader) but therefore also of a similar age to the largest cohort of the all-important new intake.

Picture 27 The candidate for the job emerging from the Centrist wing of the party is Richard Ottaway, the MP for Croydon South since 1992 (having previously sat for Nottingham North between 1983 and 1987), who has been a vice chairman of the 1922 Committee since 2005. His backers point to that experience as being in his favour, with him helping, for example, to draw up the rules which put three Tory MPs onto the party board - of whom he is now one. Not only has he been a frontbencher in opposition, but he is also familiar with the machinery of government, serving for some years as a parliamentary private secretary in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ottaway was first out of the traps in this election and some of the candidates aspiring to enter the Commons have reported to me that he has already been in touch with friendly notes.  His detractors point to the fact that his second stint as a ministerial aide was to Michael Heseltine, someone who remains a divisive figure for many who have not forgiven him for his role in bringing down Margaret Thatcher in 1990; but Ottaway's supporters suggest to me that this is a red herring and their man's political position should not be relevant in this election. Rather, MPs should be looking for a '22 chairman coming to the end of his or her parliamentary career with the necessary experience to marshall backbench opinion and present it forcefully to the party leadership.

Watch this space!

8.30am update: Paul Waugh has just blogged again on this subject here, admitting that he got it wrong on Whittingdale and tossing in the name of James Arbuthnot as unlikley outsider...

Jonathan Isaby


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