Sketch: Questionable tactics of the Labour whips

ANDREW MACKINLAY (Labour, Independent, Thurrock) should be canonised, knighted, awarded a Nobel Prize, given free tickets to every World Cup match and granted the freedom of the Palace of Westminster.

His question to the Prime Minister asked him to recall how MPs groaned at Tory backbenchers, who when in office, asked "fawning, obsequious, softball, well-researched, planted questions".

He demanded an undertaking from Mr Blair to "encourage loyal Labour backbenchers to provide scrutiny and accountability".

Mr Blair looked horrendously uncomfortable - gobsmacked is I think the expression - devoid obviously of any advanced knowledge of this crime of independent free thinking.

With no prepared script he gave an edgy, somewhat menacing, response. "I fully respect my honourable friend's independence of mind and I shall do my very best to make sure he retains it." I translated this as meaning 'You'll never get a job in my government".

The man responsible for all of this, is not, in fairness Tony Blair but from my experience, a quietly spoken, bespectacled, political secretary to Margaret Thatcher, called Stephen Sherbourne.

I first noticed it in those far off days in the early 1980s. Sherbourne had the bright idea of phoning me to inquire rather nervously and apologetically what I was going to ask Mrs Thatcher.

"Michael, I quite understand if this is not possible, but the PM wondered if you might be able to hint to her the broad subject you might want to raise this afternoon. Might it be foreign affairs? Industrial relations? This is simply so that she can give you as helpful an answer as possible."

From here we moved on to Number 10 actually suggesting: "The Prime Minister might like it if you were to raise foreign affairs."

By the 1990s it had developed into Number 10 actually giving you the precise question written out. I even saw some scripts for those who couldn't read or act with stage directions ("pause, wait for noise to die down").

There was a time when most government MPs tabled their own questions because of an interest in a particular subject. They kept the Prime Minister in the dark about the supplementary and enjoyed making her sweat with embarrassment if she could not provide a satisfactory answer. Sometimes they even demanded her resignation.

Gradually, as the gloss wore off, most of us decided that asking questions was not important enough. We wanted to be ministers ourselves. So we were invited to be helpful. Then, to be helpful, we were told what to say. Finally, if we said it without fluffing the lines, we were given a ministerial car and a turn at the wheel.

The Tories started it. I and others like me acquiesced in it. Labour have completed it.

Now the only difference is that most Labour MPs begin their careers wanting their turn at the wheel as soon as possible. This means pleasing the whips from the start, by accepting planted questions to the Prime Minister, asking him if he is aware how marvellous he is.

How else can one explain subsequent questions yesterday from John Hutton (Labour, obsequious, Barrow-In-Furness) and Lindsay Hoyle (Labour, fawning, Chorley) who asked obviously planted questions on health and the National Lottery.

From my seat high in the press gallery, I could see Mr Blair open his file at the right place the instant these two were on their feet, giving the game away that he knew what was in store.

How can I verify all this? I have blood on my hands. I did it as a whip myself.

Michael Brown is the former Tory MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes.

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Warehouse Developer - (Oracle, PL/SQL, ETL, OLAP, B

£65000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the global leaders in fina...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering