Eighty-eight years ago this October the Conservative-dominated coalition headed by Liberal David Lloyd George fell.
The four years since the end of the Great War hostilities had been troubled. A deep economic recession in 1920/21 had resulted in sharp tax rises and cuts in public spending to the fledgling welfare state. Disquiet over the Prime Minister’s corrupt use of the honours system had reached a crescendo. As the parliamentary term neared its end there was continuing Conservative fear that the leading figures in the coalition would agree to a snap election to the detriment of many of their followers. Above all there was a dangerous disconnect between our Party’s leaders, mesmerised by office and Lloyd George’s charisma, and the backbenchers on which its majority relied.
Thus was the stage set for the famous Carlton Club meeting, which precipitated the end of the coalition and the frontline political careers of many of its leaders.
Since October 1922 the Conservative Party has recognised the distinct interests of backbenchers at times when the Party has been in government. From Baldwin to Churchill to Thatcher these interests have been institutionalised in the role of the 1922 Committee.
Collective governmental responsibility commands the loyalty of Ministers; backbenchers must balance the conflicts between country, constituency and party in all that they do. The 1922 Committee is not a forum for institutionalised dissent – it is by contrast a crucial safety valve (and at times, an early warning system) for our Party, enabling some of these conflicts to be played out, without damaging the Conservative Party in government.
We all know that tackling the economic crisis in the years to come will place a tremendous strain on any political party, yet alone a government in coalition.
Trust and respect must be the watchwords of the relationship between the Party leadership and its backbench followers. Whilst it is legitimate to question the status or composition of the 1922 Committee for the modern era, it would be wise for this to happen soberly, responsibly and with a proper period for consideration.