In 1970s Somerset, our Members of Parliament were old fashioned Tory grandees.
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. In Wells, the member was Robert Boscawen, a war hero who had won the Military Cross and who was universally respected for his integrity.
However, it was the Member of Parliament for Taunton, Edward du Cann whom we regarded as the most powerful of our grandees.
John Peyton and Tom King held cabinet office but 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. The sort of man who was respected by his party leader
du Cann was a great 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-seven 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 conduct of their party on this extraordinary day in British political history
It is hard to imagine how the Members of Parliament from du Cann’s 1922 Committee would have perceived a Conservative government that allowed itself to disintegrate in such a farcical manner.
Perhaps the problem is that Johnson is not a grandee, nor has he the attitude or demeanour ever to become one. The quiet reflectiveness and gravitas of the men of du Cann’s generation was never appealing to a Bullingdon Club veteran.
Watching the House of Commons, the leader of the opposition seems closer to the traditional Conservative model than the unkempt man opposite with his rambling replies and contradictory statements.