Growing up in rural Somerset, there were few items to fill the local news. In the absence of other stories to fill the column inches, there was interest in the speeches and activities of the local members of parliament,
In Yeovil, the MP was John Peyton, a cabinet minister in the government of Edward Heath. In Bridgwater, Tom King was the first Westminster representative to be elected after the reduction of the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. Tom King served in various cabinet roles in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. However, it was the Member of Parliament for Taunton, Edward du Cann whom we regarded as the most powerful.
John Peyton and Tom King could be removed from their position at the whim of the Prime Minister of the day. Edward du Cann was chair of the 1922 Committee, the committee of Conservative backbench Members of Parliament. Edward du Cann was the sort of man upon whom Conservative leaders depended for support, the sort of man to whom Conservative Prime Ministers would turn in times when members needed to be rallied.
du Cann was a grandee of the Tory party, a man who spoke with authority and who expected to be heard.
The existence of the grandees probably owed much to the way in which the Conservative Party was organised in times past. The first time a formal election took place to elect a Conservative leader was 1965, just fifty-five years ago.
Prior to the election of Edward Heath, in a contest against Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell, Conservative leaders “emerged” through a consultative process. it was such a process that had led to the emergence of the Earl of Home as Conservative leader in 1963. Disclaiming his peerage, he entered the House of Commons as Sir Alec Douglas Home and served as Prime Minister for a year, before losing the 1964 General Election.
Perhaps the influence of the grandees began to decline after the parliamentary party began to elect its own leader. It is certainly much reduced at a time when the Conservative leader is elected by a ballot of party members. Yet there must still be grandees lingering from former times who have strong opinions about the direction of their party.
What is the grandees’ perception of the abandonment of Conservative Party principles by the present administration? How would the Members of Parliament from du Cann’s 1922 Committee have perceived a Conservative government that allowed nationalisation, state intervention in micro-economics, and massive public expenditure?