The new Parliament of 2010 has begun; but it is by no means business as usual. The reality of a coalition Conservative/Lib Dem Government imposes policy compromises. Both Parties now have to support some things that weren’t in their manifesto and drop some undertakings that were. Of course there is some disquiet, but the deal is done.
But through the 1922 Committee, backbench voices can be heard. I am standing for election as Chairman of the Committee.
The 1922 Committee is at the heart of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. It is the forum in which debate and disagreement can take place in private rather than in front of the cameras on College Green. It serves as a sounding board for criticism and new ideas and each member is equally entitled to be heard. From the meetings of the Committee the officers take the views expressed to the leadership of the Party. Between meetings the Chairman’s antennae will pick up rumbles of disquiet or dissatisfaction among colleagues. This is when informal consultation will be appropriate and good judgement needed in deciding how best to proceed. It is often helpful for views to be aired and shared rather than suppressed.
The Chairman requires some specific skills: he must keep confidences, be impartial, tactful, clear in thought, good at listening and enduringly aware of his allegiance to the backbench members. His personal position on the political spectrum should not be an issue since the Chairman must set aside personal policy convictions to do this job. This would be no difficulty for me as I sit pretty squarely in the centre of the Party and have good friends on both wings.
In the highly unusual parliament we are entering, I honestly believe that the Chairman of the ’22 should have considerable experience of the House. I believe that I have that experience - as an MP of some 22 years and as Vice Chairman of the ’22 for the last 5 years. My political CV which can be seen at www.richardottaway.com includes serving as a Whip both in government and in opposition. I have held a number of front bench positions and served on some important committees.
My election to the Board of the Conservative Party in ’06 has given me a close and good working relationship with the voluntary side of the Party. I think this will be important in the days ahead when the absence of an overall parliamentary majority will create tensions. A strong personal relationship with the Parliamentary Party and voluntary Party leadership will help to keep the Party united and working as a coherent political force.
Among other work during my five years as Vice Chairman of the ’22 , I drafted the new rules, following the Howard Flight affair in the run up to the 2005 election, which gave the right of appeal to an MP who has had the whip removed. I also chaired the sub-committee which revised the constitution of the Conservative Party. This included the election of MPs to the Board, an innovation that has been extremely successful in creating a united Party.
Finally, I believe that the ’22 can have an important role to play in re-introducing the specialist subject committee system, with sub-committees on finance, foreign affairs and defence, home and domestic affairs. These committees will provide a valuable opportunity for many more backbenchers to get involved with Parliamentary work.
The 1922 Committee is an important institution. The Chairman must command the respect of backbenchers and faithfully and forcefully convey their views to the leadership in both formal and informal ways. I believe I have the relevant skills and experience for the post