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
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game