Hopes rise among Conservative old guard before 1922 committee elections

As Downing Street aides play down chances of success, the right is working hard to keep hold of two crucial posts

Hopes are rising among members of the Conservative right that they will spike the guns of supporters of David Cameron, who aim to oust members of the old guard from the executive of the 1922 committee in elections.

As Downing Street aides played down chances of success in Wednesday’s elections, the right were working hard to ensure they keep hold of the crucial two secretarys posts of the 1922 executive.

A row erupted on the Tory backbenches after members of the loyalist 301 group told the Guardian last month, on the eve of the local elections, that they would try to introduce “seismic change” in the elections to the 1922 executive. Kris Hopkins, one of the founders of the 301 group, told the Guardian that he would publish a slate of candidates to remove the “bloody rude” old guard who hound the prime minister.

The battle is now focusing on the two secretary posts among the six officers of the 1922. There is one vacancy after the decision of Mark Pritchard not to stand again. The 301 group aim to remove Christopher Chope, the Thatcherite former minister, from the second secretary post. The group is proposing Charlie Elphicke, a Cameron loyalist, and Priti Patel, an independent-minded eurosceptic, for the two posts.

The right is hoping that Chope will see off the challenge. It is asking supporters to vote for Chope and for Nick de Bois, the popular MP for Enfield North, for the secretary posts. Elphicke was thought to be struggling.

George Osborne showed the leadership’s support for the 301 group by addressing its members on Tuesday. But aides said the meeting was long planned and was not linked to the 1922 elections.

Leadership sources indicated that they expect mixed results. “Look, Mark Pritchard was taken out without a shot being fired,” one source said of the decision of the Cameron critic to stand down.

“But these elections will be a mixed bag. Who knows how they will go? They are a bit like an exercise on Salisbury Plain – they are tough going and weed out those with less stamina.”

One member of the old guard targeted by the Cameron loyalists thought the tactics of the modernisers had backfired. “There is a lot of irritation that this group came along and said here are our candidates and here is our programme. That is not how we do things in the 1922. We are Tories. Their tactics feel rather leftwing. On the 1922 colleagues take a look at candidates and vote for them on the basis of whether they will represent colleagues’ views effectively.”

The backlash became clear on Tuesday when the Guardian reported that the veteran MP Nicholas Soames and the modernising Tory MP Tracey Crouch would be standing down from the 1922 executive to strengthen the position of some of the old guard. Soames and Crouch hoped that their move would save Bernard Jenkin, who had been targeted.

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