What is the 1922 Committee and how do Conservative leadership elections work?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under enormous pressure after a string of damaging allegations about rule-breaking parties at Downing Street.

There were signs of rebellion in some Conservative Party circles amid speculation that Johnson’s handling of the controversy could spark a leadership challenge.

If there is to be a Tory leadership contest, the influential 1922 Committee will play a central role. But what is the 1922 Committee – and how does the process work?

READ MORE: Who will be Prime Minister if Boris Johnson resigns – and who will be the next Tory leader?

What is the 1922 Committee?

The 1922 Committee is a very influential committee of backbench Conservative MPs. It plays a particularly important role in Tory leadership competitions.

Originally a dining group made up of new Tory MPs first elected at the 1922 general election, it gradually became the primary vehicle used by ordinary Conservative MPs to get their views across to the party leadership.

Executive members and officers of the 1922 Committee are all backbench Tory MPs – that is, those who are not in Cabinet or in other front bench roles. Since 2010, however, Conservative Frontbench MPs have been able to attend committee meetings.

In the event of a Conservative leadership election, the chairman of the 1922 committee – currently Sir Graham Brady – assumes responsibility for overseeing the process.

How does a Conservative no-confidence vote work?

To trigger a Conservative leadership election, 15% of the party’s MPs – currently equivalent to 54 of the 360 ​​Tory members in the House of Commons – must call for one.

They must do this by sending a letter to the 1922 committee chairman asking for a vote of confidence in the party leader.

In December 2018, this happened to Theresa May. While May won the vote of confidence on that occasion, she announced to the 1922 Committee the following March that she was stepping down as party leader, which she eventually did in June 2019.

Conservative Members of the Scottish Parliament and colleagues in the House of Lords have no voting rights in this procedure, as it is only open to Members of the House of Commons.

If a majority of Tory MPs vote in support of the Prime Minister in a no-confidence vote, no new vote can be called for another 12 months.

The only other way to trigger a Conservative leadership election is for the incumbent party leader to resign of his own accord.

How do conservative leadership elections work?

When an incumbent Conservative Party leader loses a no-confidence vote and a leadership election is triggered, potential candidates come forward.

The chairman of the 1922 committee will schedule the election and establish the rules. Candidates will seek nominations from their Tory peers, but if they fail to meet the threshold set by the 1922 committee chairman, they will go no further.

A series of ballots is then held among the Conservative members of the House of Commons until only two candidates remain.

These two candidates are then put to a vote among rank and file members of the Tory party. This election will be conducted according to the “one member, one vote” principle.

Local conservative parties cannot initiate competition for party leadership, although they can exert pressure in other ways.

Before 1998, Conservative leaders were elected solely by their parliamentary peers, but the party’s rules were changed by William Hague. The first party leader to be elected under the current system was Iain Duncan Smith in 2001. He was deposed a little over two years later.

Which MPs called on Boris Johnson to resign?

So far, only a handful of Conservative MPs have openly called on Boris Johnson to resign as party leader and prime minister.

Both Sir Roger Gale and Andrew Bridgen have submitted letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee, while Douglas Ross – leader of the Scottish Conservatives – has said publicly that he believes Johnson’s position is “no longer tenable”.

Two other Tory MPs, Caroline Nokes and William Wragg, have also said Johnson should resign, although it is not yet known whether or not they have submitted letters.

There is also unrest among Scottish Conservatives in Holyrood, with more than half of Tory MPs reportedly backing Douglas Ross over Boris Johnson.

When Ross asked Johnson to leave, he was dismissed as “a lightweight” by Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons and a senior figure in Boris Johnson’s cabinet.

A number of leading Scottish Tories have spoken out in Ross’ defence. However, you are not authorized to send letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady.

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