Today someone should probably explain: the 1922 Committee.
Yesterday, the PM "visited the 1922 Committee", in what was considered a critical moment for her continued career. But what does that actually mean?
Simple! The 1922 Committee is the informal name for the private gathering of backbench Conservative MPs - that is, Tory MPs who do not have jobs in the government. The Committee exists to help backbenchers* orchestrate coherent lines of strategy with their own party leadership, and to relay the views of the backbenchers as a group to the government. Traditionally, frontbenchers (people with government jobs) were banned, but in 2010 Cameron succesfully persuaded the committee to reform to allow frontbenchers to attend meetings, which has apparently helped reduce the independence of the committee, although it's still the case that only backbenchers are allowed to vote on the officers of the committee.
Meetings of the committee are private, and apparently there's a reasonable degree of openness there, although quotes and impressions are occasionally leaked. For important meetings, the media crowd around outside the door of the committee room and try to hear what's going on. Of paramount importance? The tradition that whenever a PM attends the 1922 committee, the MPs signal their support for her by banging loudly on tables (which the media outside can hear).
Apparently, May was greated with general, but not enthusiastic, thumping, indicating that her position is not under immediate threat, but that she is very much out of favour and far from secure in her position.
If the situation worsens for her, the man of the hour will be the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady.
[Brady has been an MP for 20 years. He served in a number of Shadow Cabinet positions in the early 2000s, but has been back on the backbenches for 10 years now, having resigned in protest at a policy he didn't think was right-wing enough. In 2010, he won "Backbencher of the Year" (yes, that's a real award), and became Chair of the 1922 Committee.
He also serves on a number of All-Party Parliamentary Groups - he's the Secretary of the Cayman Islands Groups and of the Fluoridation Group, for example. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal bodies of MPs devoted to quietly advancing certain interests; their work is done almost entirely behind the scenes in Westminster, not in front of cameras (which helsps them avoid partisanship). Some are serious, albeit informal, policy committees, like the Infrastructure Group that Brady is a member of, and may even have substantial institutional backing - the APPG for homelessness, for instance, has a major homelessness charity running much of its admin; others are more like after-school clubs, as much a part of MP's social lives (note: they don't have any; they have masive workloads, lots of commuting, and despite changes to improve their standard of living they still do a lot of their official work at night, for some reason) as of the national policy environment. Like the APPG for Jazz Appreciation, for instance, or the All-Pary Parliamentary Group for Cheese, of which the Leader of the Opposition is a prominent member. [Jeremy Corbyn loves cheese so much he once attempted to surreptitiously infiltrate Mexico with a bag filled with illegal cheeses to distribute to his Mexican family members and friends. The police stopped him at the border. "It's only cheese!" he said. "Oh, OK then," they said, and let him through. Of such thrilling stories is Jeremy Corbyn's legend made.]
If May is in trouble, it may be, say, the resignation of a top frontbench colleague that triggers her fall. But that will only happen if the 1922 Committee seems to have lost confidence in her, and that's what she, and others, will be frequently chatting to Mr Brady about. Mr Brady may well also be the won to tell her that she has to resign. If there is a formal challenge, it's Mr Brady who, according to internal Tory rules, will act as the returning officer over the ensuing leadership election.
The 1922 Committee is unique to the Tories, but the Parliamentary Labour Party is a close equivalent on the other side of the aisle (though the PLP includes frontbenchers as well).
No points for guessing when the 1922 Committee was formed. Yes, that's right: 1923.
But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!