Heather Wheeler: The Conservatives have changed, and the ’22 needs to change too. That’s why I’m standing to be its Chair.

9 Jun

Heather Wheeler is the MP for South Derbyshire and running to be Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

The make-up of the Parliamentary Conservative Party has changed a great deal since I was first elected back in 2010. The political landscape and the values of the party have changed too and this is why I have decided to put my name forward as Chair of the 1922 Committee.

Back in 2010, we had 305 MPs and the election map showed a clear North-South divide with a liberal smattering of orange around the shires.

Fast forward to today and there are no fewer than 364 Conservative MPs and the election map shows a sea of blue up and down the country.

Those orange patches are so small they are almost impossible to spot these days and even the red ones are largely confined to the cities. Whole swathes of the Midlands (my patch) and the North have been won over by a combination of Conservative values and a promise to respect their vote and “Get Brexit Done”.

The demographics are different these days too. Back in 2010, there were 49 women Conservative MPs, today there are 87. In the interim period, we have also elected our second female leader and the country’s second female Prime Minister too.

However, the Parliamentary Party is still yet to elect a female chair of the 1922 Committee; a fact that I was actually unaware of until a colleague pointed it out to me after I announced my candidacy.

I obviously hope that my colleagues vote to change that in the upcoming 1922 elections. But I don’t believe in tokenism and hope to secure their votes as a result of my abilities and experience rather than my gender.

With the Labour Party beset by persistent ideological infighting and a toxic obsession with wokery, issues almost all voters I speak with have no time for, this shifting landscape looks set to continue.

Strong Conservative policies such as the Government’s levelling up agenda are already bearing fruit and there is a real chance that if we remain on the right track, the so-called “Red Wall” seats could and should become permanently blue.

Down here in Westminster we have been blessed with an exciting new generation of Conservative MPs who, like me, represent constituencies steeped in manufacturing and agriculture.

Our party is blessed with talent, MPs like Jane Hunt from Loughborough who has successfully held a University seat, John Lamont MP from Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk who has fought off the SNP, and Craig Williams MP from Montgomeryshire who has bounced back from losing a previous seat to secure a strong majority in a traditionally liberal Welsh seat.

These MPs and the many more like them are the future of our party and it is imperative that we do everything we can to keep them here in Westminster, working hard for their constituents, for as long as possible.

This is even more important with the process of the boundary changes officially starting from Tuesday June 8. We will have a huge task negotiating on behalf of sitting MPs who, through no fault of their own, may find themselves seatless.

The 1922 Committee has a key role to play in delivering that.

The ‘22 needs to act as both a conduit between the Parliamentary Party and our ministerial colleagues and a counterbalance to a government with a large majority and a wide-ranging agenda.

The Committee has to ensure that the voice of the backbenches is heard by ministers when it needs to be, whether that is to offer wholehearted support or constructive criticism. Its job is to ensure that this Government does remain on the right track.

The Chair is central to this role. The perfect ‘22 Chair must not be too close to the Government or too strongly opposed to them either.

It is a fine line to tread but one which, as a former minister in Boris Johnson’s Government and an independent-minded backbencher who has never been afraid to voice my own views and those of my constituents, I believe I am ideally placed to deliver.

Sir Graham Brady has shown some distinguished leadership during his time as Chair. But having held the role for 11 years, he is already the second longest-serving ’22 Chair after Edward du Cann.

The Party has changed, the political landscape has changed, and I believe it is time for the leadership of the 1922 Committee to change too. I know that many colleagues who have already offered me their support share this view.

It is time for the ‘22 to be revitalised to reflect the modern Conservative Party, to keep Government policies moving in the right direction, and to defend the values that everyone connected to the Conservative Party holds dear.

I believe I am the right person to deliver a renewed 1922 Committee that can serve the best interests of the Parliamentary Party, our grassroots members, and our voters up and down the country.

Most importantly of all, as Chair of the 1922 Committee, I will strain every sinew to ensure that we take the rights steps to deliver many more years of Conservative Party government.