Tories vote on 1922 leadership

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The Independent Online
Five Tory backbenchers are competing for the chairmanship of the influential 1922 Committee, it emerged last night as nominations for the post closed.

The influential "men in grey suits", who have been severely depleted since the election, must choose a new leader before they can set about finding a replacement for John Major.

Among those who announced that they were in the running for the post were the former armed forces minister, Archie Hamilton, and the former secretary of state for education, John MacGregor. Also standing are Edward Leigh, a Euro-sceptic former trade and industry minister, John Townend, chairman of the right-wing '92 group, and John Butterfill, MP for Bournemouth West.

The former chairman, Sir Marcus Fox, lost his Shipley seat to Labour at the general election and one of his two vice-chairmen, Dame Jill Knight, stood down. The secretaries, Sir John Hannam and Sir Peter Hordern, and the treasurer, Sir Giles Shaw, also chose to leave Parliament.

The executive of the 1922 Committee is traditionally as a powerful body to whom the party leader must listen. It represents the views of the rank and file, and if backbenchers lose faith in the leadership, it is the executive who may force a change of regime.

The election will take place today, and once it is over the committee's first task will be to set a timetable for the leadership election. One issue bound to be discussed at an early stage by the new committee is the question of widening the leadership election to take in ordinary party members.

The result of the election will be published tonight. Standing for the vice-chairmanship are Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, an existing vice-chairman, Sir Anthony Steen, a senior back-bencher, Alan Clark, former minister and MP for Kensington and Chelsea, and Mr Townend and Mr Butterfill. Sir Anthony is also standing for treasurer, as is former minister Sir Peter Emery and Macclesfield MP Nicholas Winterton.

Four people have put their names forward for a secretary post: Mr Steen, former minister Michael Mates, Broxbourne MP Marion Roe and Thanet North MP Roger Gale.

EDWARD LEIGH

A loyal Thatcherite, Mr Leigh received little reward for his pains. He entered Parliament in 1983 but only became a minister - at trade and industry - under John Major in 1990. He was sacked in 1993 for leading the anti-Maastricht ministers, and backed John Redwood for the leadership in 1995.

JOHN BUTTERFILL

On the more liberal end of the Conservative Party, Mr Butterfill is a Europhile and opposes capital punishment. He is also in favour of a limited lowering of the homosexual age of consent. A former parliamentary private secretary to Brian Mawhinney and Cecil Parkinson.

SIR ARCHIE HAMILTON

As the son of the third Baron Hamilton of Dalzell, Sir Archie Hamilton is one of a handful of aristocrats in the House of Commons. He was a defence minister for six years. He supports the return of capital punishment and opposes any reduction in the homosexual age of consent.

JOHN TOWNEND

Already a member of the 1922 Committee executive, he holds right-wing views on almost every issue from tax cuts to public spending, from the trade unions to immigration and from hanging to homophobia. He was a Maastricht rebel and backed John Redwood's bid for leadership of the party in 1995.

THE CHAIRMEN IN WAITING

JOHN MACGREGOR

Served as minister of industry, agriculture, education and transport as well as leading the House of Commons between 1990 and 1992. Since leaving government in 1994, Mr MacGregor has taken up a number of company directorships.

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