By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron spoke yesterday evening at a vast party of the Parliamentary Party (largely) to celebrate 90 years of the 1922 Committee. So did Graham Brady, who presided over the event. So, scarcely believably, did Sir Edward Du Cann – yes, the Sir Edward Du Cann of Milk Street Mafia fame, who as '22 Committee Chairman helped to topple Edward Heath.* Du Cann made an old-fashioned Parliamentarian's speech of almost rococo splendour. "It's worth remembering that he might have become party leader in 1975, if he had stood," a former Minister said to me.
Like Heath, though less fatally, the Prime Minister has not had a happy history with the '22. But I was struck by the speed with which, in his remarks, he got on to the subject of Margaret Thatcher. There is an obvious reason for this. Baroness Thatcher's name has become a hallowed one among Tory backbenchers – despite the role that they played in her fall – has recently died, and its mention will always raise a cheer. Cameron's recent moves to claim her legacy – consider the carefully-floated share scheme possibility – has gone down well with them.
But I think there is also a more subtle reason. Behind those moves is an implicit bargain: I'll follow in Thatcher's footsteps if you follow me without briefing – that's to say, without complaining to the media, sending out a mass of disloyal tweets or (in extremis) plotting to get rid of me. The mood of the Parliamentary Party is certainly much better after Labour's poll lead shrinkage and welfare confusion. But, then again, one can't rely on the mood of Conservative MPs to stay constant, any more than one can rely on the weather to do so.
P.S: The Prime Minister dismissed any suggestion that the '22 is like a trade union. Ed Miliband has had millions of pounds from the unions, he said. But he's never got a penny out of the '22.
* Sir Edward's smoothness is such is that he is once said to have replied,
when asked the time: "What time would you like it to be?" By my
calculation, he is a month and a year off his 90th birthday.