By Tim Montgomerie
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In June 2010 I suggested that the nature of the Coalition presented an opportunity for the 1922 Committee of Backbench Conservative MPs to become the champion of Conservative policy-making and campaigning. I recommended that with David Cameron as Prime Minister, first, then leader of the Coalition, second, and then, only third, as leader of the Conservative Party there was a gap to fill.
As it happens the '22 hasn't become the centre of this new thinking – at least up until now. Instead we've had a flowering of new groupings within the parliamentary party…
- The 301 Group, for example, that is focused on how to win a majority;
- The Forty Group brings together MPs sat on marginal seats;
- The 2020 Conservatives Group aims to be the home of Cameron's liberal Conservatism (yesterday's Telegraph reported its aims);
- The Fresh Start Group is examining how to repatriate powers from the EU and form the UK's relationship with Brussels (one of its leading lights, Andrea Leadsom, writes about its thinking on financial services for ConHome today);
- The Free Enterprise Group – apparently the Chancellor's favourite group – is doing the hard thinking on economic reform (yesterday George Eustice reported its thinking on bankruptcy law);
- At party conference I'm aware that a new 'blue collar Conservatism' forum will launch.
I've learnt this weekend (and James Forsyth has also reported the fact in the Mail on Sunday (scroll down to second story)) that there will be an attempt, however, to use the forthcoming elections to the 1922 Committee to promote candidates who want a more forward-looking and policy and campaign-driven focus. Three MPs Charlie Elphicke, George Holingbery and Priti Patel are behind the move. Their key target is the position of Secretary. The existing holder of that office – Mark Pritchard MP – has already said he intends to step down.
"In this Parliament it is the Conservatives on the back benches who are making the case for reform in areas ranging from lower taxes for the least well off, extradition, social care, answers to the West Lothian question, trade unions, stronger borders, support for growth and manufacturing industry, free market enterprise and European renegotiation. The forward thinking and positive ideas we see from the backbenches can make a major contribution to the Conservatives winning outright at the next election."
"The 22 currently has an important role holding ministers to account. Yet we need to see it do more to support politics on the backbenches and an extended role for shaping Conservative policies at the next election, helping to deliver a Conservative majority in 2015 and dominating the Parliamentary agenda."
My understanding is that Graham Brady, Chairman of the '22, is unlikely to be challenged but other office holders – who have been regular critics of the party leadership will face opponents.