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Graham Brady has announced he is to stand down as MP for Altrincham and Sale West at the next election. Having represented the seat since 1997, he is best known as the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, a role he has held (a small break in 2019 apart) since 2010. In that time, he has outlasted (and played his part in the replacement of) four Conservative leaders, becoming the post’s longest-serving holder in the process.
As Chairman, Brady has been a frequent critic of the Tory frontbench. Having resigned as a shadow minister in 2007 in opposition to the party’s policy on grammar schools, he supported Brexit in 2016 and won the approval of MPs in early 2019 for an amendment designed to replace the Northern Ireland backstop.
Brady was also a leading parliamentary critic of the Government’s approach to the Covid pandemic. In May 2020 he called for the removal of the “arbitrary rules and limitations on freedom” introduced by the Government, criticised the public’s willingness to “stay at home”, and spoke out against frequent lockdowns and the social impacts of lockdowns on those with mental health issues.
He was elected as chairman in 2010 ahead of Richard Ottaway, the preferred candidate of David Cameron. In 2019, he chose not to supervise the leadership election following the resignation of Theresa May, raising speculation that he intended to run himself. He did not do so.
In January 2020 he was challenged for the chairmanship by Bill Wiggin, the MP for North Herefordshire, and was re-elected. He was challenged again in 2021 by Heather Wheeler and won once more. He became the Committee’s longest-serving chairman last year when he overhauled the record set by Edward du Cann between 1972 and 1984.
Brady has said he “will continue to serve” as chairman for the rest of this parliament if his colleagues want him to. Any challenge for the chairmanship at the next 1922 Committee Elections – to be held before the summer recess – can be expected to expose the divisions between shades of Tory opinion present on the green benches (and beyond).
Eurosceptics and Europhiles, Thatcherites and One Nationers, Red Wallers and Blue Wallers, Net Zero enthusiasts and hawks, Johnson Restorationists and Trussite True-Believers: in a way, it will be a dry run for the party’s next leadership election. That, of course, is something that Brady – and most MPs – will be hoping is a long way off.
Why has he stepped down now? 27 years in Parliament is not a bad innings. He has served in a role with a high public profile at a time of crucial importance, and deserves the party’s credit for his role in both telling leaders when the game was up, and organising their replacement.
When he was elected in 1997, Brady was the party’s youngest MP. He will be 56 at the time of the next election. Like many of the 23 other MPs so far to have announced they are standing down, he must fancy a career change, after a life in politics, whilst he is still only middle-aged.
That Electoral Calculus is also currently giving Labour an 89 per cent chance of winning of Altrincham and Sale West – essentially an affluent, Blue Wall, Remain-voting seat incongruously close to Manchester – is another factor that will have undoubtedly played on Brady’s mind, whatever his public position.