They threaten, bully and cajole, but it's all bluff

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Indy Politics

Any MP who, as Tess Kingham alleges, succumbs to bullying by government whips is simply unfit to be in Parliament.

Any MP who, as Tess Kingham alleges, succumbs to bullying by government whips is simply unfit to be in Parliament.

I do not deny that whips try it on with their junior colleagues. But anyone who is taken in does not appreciate that a whip, like the emperor, has no clothes. A whip can threaten and cajole. Possibly they can delay a junior promotion. But it is all bluff.

Nothing undermines whips more than when a backbencher, by unilaterally going home early, missing a vote or voting against his party, calls that bluff.

I saw the whips' services from both sides: as a consumer and as a provider. For 14 years, on the back benches, I played every trick in the book against them. I voted against them. I bunked off early. When they threatened me with the withdrawal of a free foreign trip I wrote to the Speaker. Since they had told me on day one, when I first voted against the Government, that I was not going to be promoted, they had no aces left in their hands. They became so exasperated that in 1993 they invited me to become one of them.

If a whip threatens an MP with no promotion or not being allowed time off it is because the whip thinks that the MP is spineless and will succumb to the threat. The mere threat of voting against the Government, however, will put the whip back firmly in his place.

Older and wiser MPs would simply bunk off after 10pm. If a vote was subsequently held the Government would lose. Consequently, on many occasions (especially during the Maastricht debates) we simply did not pursue the business.

The current Government has a huge majority. If whips are being tiresome then backbenchers should simply take their votes home with them. One lost vote will cause far more career trouble from Downing Street for the whips than for the backbenchers.

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