A will that defied cancer and rebels

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Indy Politics

Political Correspondent

Geoffrey Dickens' efforts to turn up for key Commons votes, diminishing the Tory rebels' impact, features in a BBC2 documentary on Sunday on the world of Westminster whips.

Michael Cockerell, the programme maker, said yesterday that minor adjustments would be made to the film Westminster's Secret Service, but that Mr Dickens had told him that he wished what he had said to be broadcast.

In a preview yesterday, Mr Dickens is shown blaming not government whips for his enforced attendance when suffering from cancer, but the Tory rebels.

The BBC was met with a point-blank refusal by Richard Ryder, the Government Chief Whip, for any of his team to co-operate with the programme. But former Tory whips confirm the existence of the "dirt book", which details embarrassing details of MPs' private lives.

Tim Fortescue, a Tory whip in Edward Heath's government, is shown saying that on a crucial vote, "it is possible to suggest that perhaps it would not be in his interest if people know something or other ... very mildly".

The existence of the "shits list" of rebel MPs in the government whips' office is confirmed by Rupert Allason, Tory MP for Torbay, who had the party whip suspended for a year for failing to attend a key vote on Maastricht. "I was once shown it just to demonstrate that I still hadn't achieved membership of the shits."

Among serving and former Labour whips, Lord Howie told the programme "deathbed voting" had claimed the lives of three MPs in the 1960s. Joe Ashton, the MP for Bassetlaw, said Labour whips had two "bog trotters" who ran round the lavatories during a division to see if anyone was ill. "If they could, they jumped up and looked over the door. If it was one of theirs, they left him in, no matter how ill he was. If he was one of ours, they got him out."

Margaret Thatcher is revealed as an advocate of Harold Macmillan's speedy resignation when the Profumo scandal broke, while the programme attributes the following quote to David Lightbown, a senior Government whip, on the snap decision of Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, to vote with Labour on a key Commons vote on Europe in the spring.

"Norman Lamont can go and play the fiddle in the field on his own, and die in the long grass."