Fox beats off the right-wing challenge at 1922 committee

PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

A right-wing offensive to snatch the chairmanship of the influential 1922 Tory backbench committee came to nought last night as the John Major loyalist Sir Marcus Fox beat off a challenge from the Dartford MP Bob Dunn.

Mr Dunn's fellow right-winger, John Townend, a 1922 executive member and chairman of the backbench finance committee, likewise failed in a bid to be elected as one of the committee's two vice-chairmen.

While Sir Marcus is broadly on the "establishment" right, Mr Dunn, a former minister, is a hardline Thatcherite No Turning Back Group member. His "Get Dunn In" campaign was based on the argument that he would provide continuity on the committee at a time when nine of the party grandees among the 18-strong executive are planning to retire from Parliament at the next election. However, the overall upshot of last night's annual elections leaves the political complexion of the executive unchanged, with MPs from the right-wing 92 Group still accounting for nearly two- thirds of the officers and members.

The only change to the executive was the exit of Sir Donald Thompson, and that was only by default because he failed to get his nomination papers in on time. He is replaced by the former armed services minister Sir Archie Hamilton.

Prominent members of the 92 Group, led by the chairman Sir George Gardiner, had pressed unsuccessfully for a slate of fresher candidates who would be likely to figure in the next Parliament. But that strategy was thwarted.

It was the second year in succession that Sir Marcus, the MP for Shipley, has had to beat off a challenge. Last year he saw off Sir Nicholas Bonsor, now a junior minister, amid heavy criticism that he was too fond of relaying the views of the leadership to the backbenches, instead of transmitting the views and criticisms of MPs to the Government.

A number of MPs thought he went too far when he warned that a Euro-rebellion could provoke a general election. There was further indignation after he offered the executive's endorsement of John Major in the summer leadership contest when two executive members, Mr Townend and David Evans, were backing John Redwood.

Sir Marcus said last night: "I am very mindful that over the next year the future of our party in government will be determined and I will do everything I possibly can to ensure that is brought about."

Mr Dunn said: "Naturally I am disappointed but of course it was an exercise in democracy. Both Marcus and I accept that this vote is healthy for the party. Now we are going to unite."

No 1922 chairman is thought to have ever vacated office voluntarily. By convention the votes cast are never revealed, but Sir Marcus was believed last night to have won comfortably.

The 1922 executive officers and members

Chairman: Sir Marcus Fox.

Vice Chairmen: Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith; Dame Jill Knight

Treasurer: Sir Giles Shaw

Secretaries: Sir John Hannam; Sir Peter Hordern

Executive members: Sir Rhodes Boyson, Bob Dunn, Sir Tony Durant, David Evans, Sir Anthony Grant, Sir Archie Hamilton, Sir Terence Higgins, Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, Sir Fergus Montgomery, Sir Michael Neubert, James Pawsey, John Townend.

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