MPs from 2010 Tory intake band together for 1922 committee election, aiming to replace rightwing anti-Cameron members
The Conservative party is to undergo “seismic change” if a new generation of MPs succeed in ousting the “bloody rude” old guard – who are highly critical of David Cameron – from the executive of the backbench 1922 committee.
In a highly unusual move, which will be welcomed in Downing Street, a slate of candidates for the committee will be announced on Monday by members of a group of newly elected Tory MPs.
The move against the traditionalists is being run by the 301 Group, which takes its name from the number of seats the Tories will need to win in the reconfigured parliament to secure a majority.
The elections, which are likely to lead to the removal of rightwing Conservative MPs who regularly take to the airwaves to criticise the prime minister, could transform the image of the party at Westminster.
Mark Pritchard, the secretary of the 1922 committee who regularly criticises the prime minister, has already announced he is resigning from his post. He is expected to be replaced by Charlie Elphicke, the loyal MP for Dover.
Supporters of the changes insist they will not be patsies.
Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery, one of the new faces who was elected overwhelmingly to the 1922 executive in a recent byelection, is described as a “loyalist with reservations”. Hollingbery defied a three-line whip last year to vote in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
The new MPs say they will pass on the concerns of a growing number of backbenchers about the performance of the prime minister, whose lackadaisical style has led to him being dubbed “DVD Dave”. Unlike the old guard, however, they say they will do this in private.
As polls show a sharp drop in support for the Tories, criticism of Cameron has risen amid a widespread feeling that Jeremy Hunt will struggle to remain as culture secretary.
Fears about the government’s performance has been compounded by a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times which showed the Tories have slumped to 29%, their lowest level since 2004. Labour is on 40%, with the Liberal Democrats on 11% – one point ahead of the UK Independence Party.
Many MPs believe the emails published by the Leveson inquiry – which appeared to show that Hunt was, through his former special adviser Adam Smith, egging on News Corp’s bid to take full control of BSkyB – have made his position untenable.
One senior figure, who is supporting the changes to the 1922 committee, said: “It felt like we were on a bit of a downward trajectory at the beginning of the week. But now it feels like we have gone off a cliff.”
Kris Hopkins, a former private in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment who became MP for Keighley at the last election, is the driving force behind the 301 Group. He said: “I am confident – I am not wishing to be arrogant – that there will be seismic change in the shape and the tone and the narrative which sits in the 1922. It should be to everybody’s advantage.
“You are just going to get a new breath of fresh air coming to an establishment like this. Those new people come from a different era in British politics.”
Spelthorne MP Kwasi Kwarteng, one of the leading members of the 2010 intake, hopes there will be less focus on Europe. “To go on about Europe to the exclusion of absolutely everything else is a form of madness,” he said.
Elphicke said the changes should make the Tories a more effective campaigning force. “I would never criticise colleagues,” he said. “I am much more interested in what the future can look like and the future 1922 we can have that can be more dynamic, more exciting and more vibrant and ensure we win the next general election.”
The slate of candidates will include a mix of old and new MPs with the aim of clearing out the old guard. They are targeting Christopher Chope, a Thatcherite former minister who is joint secretary of the 1922 executive; Peter Bone, a member of the executive; Brian Binley, the treasurer; and Philip Davies, the arch Eurosceptic MP for Shipley.
Hopkins said he had been really frustrated by the old guard’s behaviour. “One of the structural problems we had was that the people who had led [the party] in opposition went off to govern the country. A void appears at that point. Some less helpful people stepped in,” he said.
But he said the new generation would speak out. “This is not about some sycophantic group who just stand to attention when the prime minister shouts. But if you are going to have a dialogue across 300-odd people, you’ve got to make sure that both sides respect each other. The starting point is not conflict, the starting point is not being bloody rude to each other.”