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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
The other Tory election

Before the Conservative Party chooses another leader, it faces another election.

Tory MPs must vote for a new chairman and executive of the party's 1922 Committee - the body which will run the leadership contest.

Three contenders - former education secretary Gillian Shephard, former environment minister Sir Michael Spicer and current committee vice-chairman John Butterfill - have already declared they will stand for the chairmanship.

The previous chairman, Sir Archie Hamilton, retired as an MP at the general election.

Leadership dates

All Conservative backbenchers are members of the commitee and will be able to vote for the new chairman on 27 June.

Nominations for the leadership could close the next day or on 5 July.
Gillian Shephard
Shephard: Chairman must be impartial and neutral

Once the contest is over, the committee chairman will have an important role as the party tries to rebuild after its election disaster.

Eurosceptic Sir Michael Spicer is being tipped as the frontrunner in the chairmanship contest and has spoken of his wish to give backbenchers a stronger voice.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "I want to restore to the Conservative Party the status that it had when I first came into parliament, particularly over involvement in policy matters.

"Having backbench policy committees was good for the leadership because it allowed them to test out ideas on their parliamentary colleagues.

"And it was good for the MPs because politics is for politicians and not for backroom boys."

Sir Michael Spicer
Spicer: Tipped as frontrunner
That stance was echoed by John Butterfill, MP for Bournemouth West.

Mr Butterfill told BBC News Online that shadow cabinets should avoid becoming isolated within a "cocoon" of advisers.

"The leader must require members of their shadow cabinet to have broad consultation and not proceed solely on the basis of a cabal of advisers," he said.

Pungent messages

Mr Butterfill wants backbenchers to be represented on policy discussion groups and backbench party committees to be revived and strengthened.

"The chairman should fulfil the role of ensuring that views of backbenchers are accurately and, if necessary, pungently conveyed to the leadership," said the MP, who believes there has been too little communication in the past.

Before the new chairman can begin that task, he or she must act as chief returning officer in the leadership election.

John Butterfill
Butterfill: Must avoid cabals of advisers
Mr Butterfill believes the chairman is unlikely to influence that contest.

While there had been some suggestions the leadership contest could be delayed, he said that was not allowed under the rules and the leader had to be elected as soon as possible.

Mrs Shephard has emphasised the need for the chairman to be "neutral and impartial" both during the leadership race and afterwards.

She too believes there is a real job to done in reinvigorating the committee to give MPs real influence on policy issues.

History

It is often said that the 1922 Committee takes its name from the Carlton Club meeting which brought down the Lloyd George coalition in 1922.

But in fact it was formed in 1923 and named after the year in which its first members were elected as MPs.

Tory MP Alan Duncan this week called for the name to be changed to make it more modern but when this has been discussed before, MPs have failed to agree on an alternative.

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