It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it

REVIEW

"If you understand them well, your advice will be better directed," said a former Tory whip in Michael Cockerell's engagingly murky account of political arm-bending, Westminster's Secret Service (BBC2). He was explaining why the whips needed to know every detail of their charges' private lives, but the suggestion of tender concern sat a little uneasily with the facts - the mild avuncularity brought to mind a protection racketeer, offering his services in Risk Dispersal Analysis. In truth the whips aren't the kindly uncles of the party, they're its Godfathers, and when they disperse charity it is in the sure and certain knowledge that the debt will one day be called in.

Some of those debts are clearly sizeable ones. Tim Fortescue, an urbane ex-whip, argued that the Whips' Office could be useful to errant MPs, those who found themselves in debt or "scandals with small boys". Did he really mean to say that members of the Government would make themselves accessories to the sexual abuse of minors? Surely not. Well, not as long as they had a safe working majority anyway. Cockerell didn't press him on the point. He had already secured the golden quote, when Fortescue winked slyly at the fact that the Tories had had a woman leader but no female whips. Do you really mean to say that the whips are more important than the Prime Minister, asked Cockerell. "You said it, I didn't say it," Fortescue replied, with an Urquhart twinkle.

Much of this, it was clear, is clubbish bravado, a bogeyman pantomime designed to fleece the backbench sheep who have to be herded through the right lobby at the right time. The fear that the whips may know about that regrettable, and of course solitary, lapse at Brighton in 1989 helps to speed them on their way. Mystique is essential for the trick to work - current Tory whips weren't talking and while Labour whips had allowed Cockerell to film them at work, the liberty resulted in scenes that were as grittily revealing as a corporate video. For a hint at the truth you had to listen to ex-whips (all filmed in conspiratorial gloom) and look closely at the old boy reunions, sniggering encounters with more than a whiff of the sixth form about them. A combination of ruthlessness and arrested development seems to be indispensable - a Labour whip recalled marking down recalcitrant MPs with brown pencil because they were "shits", while at the Tory Whips' Dinner one of the chief entertainments is drawing up lists of disliked MPs and voting for the "shit of the year".

Apparently Tony Blair is remodelling the Labour Whips' Office on Tory lines - as a nursery for high-flyers, a Machiavellian Montessori in which to learn the secret torture-grips of government. Instead of those with a modest ambition to bully you will get bullies with big ambitions. It may be tactically wise but you wonder what it will do to the general complexion of government. I would have thought the last few years showed that there might be sound reasons for maintaining a distinction between the generals and the thugs.

The first episode of The Vet (BBC1) was at pains to distance itself from its somewhat anodyne predecessors in the cowpat tradition. "Shall I put him in the oven for dinner?" asks our hero, holding his daughter's pet rabbit. Another character is discovered watching EastEnders, presumably dreaming wistfully of delivery pizzas and late-night groceries. The storyline was equally uncosy - a tale of rural bankruptcy, with suicide or a shotgun massacre sitting hopefully in the high branches. Both were frightened off by the human rule-bending of our hero, after a couple of those colleagues' shouting matches to which middle-brow television is incurably addicted. The furry subject matter seems to me to undermine any possibility of cutting- edge career drama, but if the notion of a "high-powered small animals specialist" doesn't make you giggle you may well enjoy it.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?