Sketch: Questionable tactics of the Labour whips
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.
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
- 3 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Jeremy Clarkson calls on trolls to leave producer Oisin Tymon alone: 'None of this is his fault'
Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
Andreas Lubitz: Who is Germanwings co-pilot who 'locked out captain and crashed flight 9525'?
#FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Russia unveils plans for high speed railway and superhighway to connect Europe and America
Cate Blanchett loses temper during interview: 'That's your f**king question?'
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...
£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading Key Cutting equipm...