David Cameron has backed down on his controversial attempt to allow ministers to become full members of the 1922 Committee — a move that Gary Gibbon says is akin to “the management demanding seats on the union negotiating team”.
Ministers will still be allowed to attend meetings, but will not vote for executive positions. This is a near-total climbdown for Cameron, and is expected to increase the chances of the influential backbencher Graham Brady being elected chair of the committee.
Brady, who resigned from Cameron’s front bench while in opposition so that he could defend grammar schools, will stand against Richard Ottaway.
Opinion seems to be divided on whether this is a dent to Cameron’s authority, or a sign of his flexible leadership skills.
Conversely, the backbencher Peter Bone, who led protests over the rule change, said: “This is a victory for the leadership. It shows Mr Cameron is prepared to listen to his backbenchers”. Fraser Nelson agrees that it is a “sign of strength, not weakness”.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. It’s a substantial climbdown for Cameron, but seems like an astute move. This whole row was conjured up by Cameron himself, albeit unintentionally, so it makes sense, particularly at this early stage, to keep backbenchers onside and be seen to be listening.
The rushed vote and questionable rules (allowing ministers to vote on whether they would be allowed to become members) left a sour taste, and ironically, for a move apparently designed to quell backbench dissent, caused outrage.
In a sign of the general mood, the Guardian quoted a senior right-winger last week as saying, ominously, “Cameron should bear in mind Shakespeare: ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ This is storing up trouble.”
The way in which this incident flared up demonstrated that backbenchers can make life very difficult for prime ministers. Let’s not forget the grief the 1922 Committee gave John Major in the 1990s when he ruled with a small majority.
Cameron must be hoping that backing down now will prevent the party’s fault lines growing any wider in future months.