The Conservatives' fringe radicals are not as fringe as you'd think.
Mothers say: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all (not mine – she loves to bitch). Journalism teachers say: Don't make sweeping generalisations about people you haven't met (probably?– I never went to journalism school).
But these rules don't apply when we're talking about the Executive of the 1922 Committee, for the simple reason that they're not very nice people. That wouldn't be a problem, were it not for the fact that they're barely known outside of the Westminster bubble. Power and public anonymity are unhappy bedfellows, and they hardly make for the most progressive social policies.
Here are some of the things that can be attributed, at least in part, to members of the executive of the 1922 Committee: Brexit, Theresa May as Prime Minister, Fabric closing, the slashing of Britain's foreign aid budget. Oh, and they really don't want us to legalise weed. Okay, so I'm joking about Fabric, but the rest is true.
A quick primer: formed in 1923 (the group takes its name from the year that the MPs who formed it were elected), the 1922 Committee originally consisted of discontented Tory backbench MPs. Over time "the '22" (as they're commonly known) expanded its membership to include all Conservative MPs who didn't hold ministerial or Cabinet jobs.
The most important members are the executive committee, who are elected annually. Standing for election to the 1922 executive committee is for three types of people. Firstly, career backbenchers who will happily antagonise the leadership because they don't care about ever getting frontbench jobs (or, had ministerial jobs and lost them because they defied the Whip.) Secondly, people who'd like to get frontbench jobs, but who know they'll never manage it because of their outlandish views. Finally and conversely, power-hungry MPs who view a stint on the influential exec as a stepping stone to greater, ministerial things. While '22 as a whole is made up of every backbench Conservative, much of the executive seems to made up of the kind of beyond-satire Tories that make you wonder if they're trolling.
Although current Chairman of the '22, Graham Brady, may look like a furtive used car salesman – all red of cheek and shifty-eyed – don't let that fool you. Brady has serious political heft. Brady is a disciple of the David Cameron route to power: student politics and a brief spell in PR before being parachuted into a safe seat. Blairmania meant he nearly managed to lose this, shrinking a 16,791 majority to of 1,505 in the 1997 election. An early, enthusiastic Brexiter, Brady made headlines after he resigned his position as Shadow Minister for Europe in protest at David Cameron's opposition to grammar schools in 2007. In 2010, he became Chairman of the '22.
When he's not influencing the government, you may find Brady leading opposition to the legalisation of weed or taking a £8,600 fact-finding trip to the Cayman Islands. In 2011, it was revealed that Brady still employed his wife, Victoria, as a senior parliamentary assistant on a salary of over £40,000 a year. This is despite the fact that, in 2009, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended banning the practice of employing family members, describing it as "not consistent with modern employment practice designed to ensure fairness in recruitment, management of staff and remuneration".
Brady's joint second-in-command, Charles Walker, is well known among his peers for being the only MP in the entire Parliament to welcome an 11 percent pay rise in a period of massive austerity. Charmingly, Walker dismissed colleagues who donated their extra cash to charity as "righteous". Meanwhile, one of only two women on the exec, fellow vice-chair Cheryl Gillan was also embarrassed during the 2009 expenses scandal. Amongst other things, Gillan charged the taxpayer £4.47 for dog food; claimed more money for her gas bill than it was actually worth; and over-claimed £1,884 on her mortgage.
Some honourable mentions for other '22 executive members: Bob Blackman, staunch opponent of gay marriage who was enjoying a relationship building trip to Israel as it bombed Gaza in 2014. Nigel Evans, who tabled a bill to abolish the minimum wage. Stewart Jackson, fellow anti-gay marriage campaigner who, responding to a tweet criticising the Leave campaign for lying to the public, said, "Suck it up." Oh, and he was also accused of claiming over £66,000 of public funds during the expenses scandal to fix up his house, including hundreds of pounds to refurbish his swimming pool, which he admitted was excessive.
Basically, if you don't like gay people marrying, are chill about using taxpayer money on your swimming pool (but don't get why we need a minimum wage), and enthusiastically support Brexit, there's a place for you in the '22 Executive.
Well, good thing these fringe blowhards are relegated to backbench irrelevance, right? Except the '22 exert huge amounts of influence over the Tory leadership. It would be hard to exaggerate the role of the '22 executive in Britain leaving the EU. When Cameron agreed to a EU referendum in January 2013, it was to unite the dissident backbenches and see off potential challenges to his authority; challenges that would have been led by the 1922 executive, almost all of whom are staunch Europhobes.
When they're not leading us into another recession, the '22 get to decide the small matter of who will be our next Prime Minister. May was only confirmed as Tory leader after Brady consulted with the 1922 membership.
While they're still a way off Bullingdon Club levels of public notoriety, the '22 are far more obnoxious. An assortment of men in wife-bought navy-and-grey suits, they quietly fuck shit up for the British people from the comfort of Westminster private dining rooms and expansive Thamesside offices. They're the most powerful group of politicians you've never heard of. And if you still don't care about them, that's fine. But know this for absolute certain: unless you're a fellow Brexit-supporting millionaire with a "normal" family life, they definitely won't care about you, either.
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