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The new Tory enforcers

11 September 2012

Last week’s reshuffle not only brought in some interesting new junior ministers, but also some fresh faces to the Conservative Whips’ Office. Rebellions on the backbenches have become a headache for David Cameron in the last few months, leading him to adopt two new strategies to try to bring his party back under control.

The first strategy has been to recall some more experienced tougher guns, who have prior experience in dealing with a split party. Many of these new whips are not necessarily allies of the Prime Minister but this may prove useful in reaching out to MPs beyond his immediate grasp. Here are some of the key players:

Andrew Mitchell (Chief Whip)
Previously International Development Secretary, Mitchell is the man chosen by Cameron to lead a return to order in his party. A junior minister in the Major government, he lost his seat in 1997 but returned swiftly with a vengeance at the next election. Mitchell was instrumental in the demise of Iain Duncan Smith as leader and backed David Davis’ leadership campaign. He joined Michael Howard’s Shadow Cabinet in 2005, where he followed the DfID brief for four years. He is an ex-Army officer, known at school as ‘Thrasher’ for his aggressive management style. He faces a tough job bringing the Tories back in check but he is the best candidate Cameron could have chosen.

David Evennett
Evennett is a Eurosceptic from the right of the party. Evennett was previously a member of the Whips’ Office in opposition from 2005 – 2009. He has also been a PPS twice – once under John Redwood during the Major years and under Michael Gove since 2010. He lost his Bexleyheath and Crayford seat in the 1997 Labour landslide with a 15 per cent swing. Evennett then fought the seat twice until he regained it in 2005. Since then, he has also been a Shadow Minister in Innovation Universities and Skills. Before entering Parliament, he was an insurance broker and councillor in Redbridge.

Greg Knight
Another Eurosceptic and supporter of David Davis, Knight has been described by Paul Goodman as ‘Maastricht Revisited’. As well as serving as PPS to David Mellor, Knight was Deputy Chief Whip during John Major’s rein and faced the onerous task of handling the Maastricht Rebels. During this period, he once offered Iain Duncan Smith a PPS job in an attempt to unsuccessfully buy off his opposition to the treaty. After losing and regaining his seat as a result of Labour’s landslide, Knight was made Shadow Culture and Transport minister under Michael Howard. Knight is a keen music fan, holding the position of drummer in MP4 — which holds the rather niche accolade of being the only parliamentary rock band in the world.

Anne Milton
Milton won her Guildford seat for the first time in 2005 and became an early supporter of David Cameron. She was the Shadow Minister for Tourism and Health before taking up Junior Minister of Public Health in government. In this role, she caused controversy for her comments on free milk for school children and obesity. Milton was an NHS nurse for 25 years, a Reigate councillor and former trade union shop steward. She is a self-proclaimed Eurosceptic but also admitted to having a ‘green tinge’.

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Desmond Swayne
Having served as PPS to both Michael Howard and David Cameron, Swayne has experienced a varied parliamentary career. Under Iain Duncan Smith and Howard, he was a spokesman for Health, Defence, Northern Ireland and an opposition whip. A major in the Territorial Army, Swayne is a right-wing Eurosceptic who was once a colourful speaker in the Commons,  who used to frequently rile Tony Blair. In recent times, he has become a powerful backroom figure for the Prime Minister.

The second strategy Cameron is undertaking is using the Whips’ Office as a training ground for bright young things once again. Many stars of the 2010 intake that didn’t make ministerial rank have instead been promoted to assistant government whips under the new regime:

Jo Johnson

The younger brother of the Mayor of London, Jo entered Parliament in 2010 as the member for Orpington thanks to a 12 per cent swing. Once a merchant banker, Johnson also worked for the Financial Times following in the footsteps of Nigel Lawson as editor of the Lex column. He has been a member of the influential Public Accounts Committee since the election. Although it is often joked that Johnson is keeping the seat warm for Boris’ return to the Commons, Jo is said to be ‘very much his own man’. His move to the Whips’ Office confirms his political allegiance to the Cameron.

Nicky Morgan

PPS to David Willets since entering the Commons, Morgan was previously a corporate lawyer. She contested three seats before taking Loughborough from Labour at the 2010 election, becoming the first female to hold the seat. Morgan is a member of numerous all-party groups and frequently pops up in the Commons. At the backbench 1922 committee, she has criticised Baroness Warsi over the handling of Roger Helmer MEP’s resignation

Karen Bradley

Selected as one of Cameron’s A-list candidates for the 2010 election, Bradley won her seat after boundary changes pushed Staffordshire Moorlands in her favour. Previously an accountant at KMPG, she worked at the Conservative Research Department. She ousted the rebellious Christopher Chope as co-secretary of the 1922 committee earlier this year and has served on the Work and Pensions, and Procedure select committees. Bradley’s promotion will result in an election on the ’22 in the near future.

Greg Hands

Although not appointed in the reshuffle, Hands was the first young gun to join the Whips’ training ground just under a year ago. Hands took up the role after the mini-reshuffle following Liam Fox’s resignation. He previously served as PPS to George Osborne, having also held the position of a Shadow Treasury Minister. He entered parliament as the member for Hammersmith and Fulham in 2005, having previously been a City broker and led the Conservatives on Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

However, if the Prime Minister had his way, there would have been some other new faces entering the shadowy world of the whips, too. According to the Times (£), at least three members of the 2005 and 2010 intake — including Rob Wilson, Dominic Raab and Ben Wallace — refused jobs in the Whips’ Office for undisclosed reasons.

The full list of government whips in the House of Commons is here.

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Show comments
  • Alan Eastwood

    Can you remember, many moons ago, when it was being discussed that Parliamentarians would be allowed to check the executive through many new initiatives?.
    Whatever became of those enlightened views?.
    This decision to strengthen the Stasi is an affront to democracy. It is the same old same old. You will do what we want you to do. That is fine if, what they want you to do, is what the people voted for. BUT when it invariably is used to force MP’s to vote for measures they do not agree with. It is a disgrace.
    I say to MP’s IGNORE the whips, tell them to take a running jump into the Thames. IF the majority of backbenchers stood together and said that to the Whips they would be powerless. Perhaps, being a democracy, the backbenchers should appoint their own Whips to Whip the Whips. That would be entertaining.

  • Archimedes

    “known at school as ‘Thrasher’ for his aggressive management style”

    Known at school for his aggressive management style? What the hell was he managing?

  • EC

    A bunch of “merchants” the lot of ’em! If Dave’s relying on that shower then he’s even dimmer than we all thought.

    • Brian Lovett

      Barely flickers…

    • dorothy wilson

      I know one of these “merchants” as you call them. She worked extremely hard to win a seat that Labour viewed as one of their own. She also works extremely hard as a constituency MP. Your comments are totally uncalled for.

  • Douglas Carter

    I can’t remember which of these I voted for when I visited the ballot box two years ago.
    Can someone help me out here?

  • james102

    Eustice MP (Camborne, Redruth & Hale) was due to put a question to William
    Hague about a possible French agent in the Foreign office leaking our
    negotiating tactics prior to EU treaties. Has he been offered a job?

    Did he ask
    the question?

    • Douglas Carter

      This point needs to carry. That in a few years time the left-wing will still be obsessively considering that a member of the Royal Family once visited a fancy-dress party wearing a controversial outfit will STILL be a bigger concern than a current member of the Civil Service passing intelligence to a foreign power without comment is extraordinary.

  • Nicholas

    What idiot thought photo-shopping their heads onto the RMA Sandhurst cadet uniform was a good idea? Nothing to do with the Whips Office and a tenuous connection to Mitchell’s short service commission.

    • EC

      “Long trouser” envy from Sebastian, I fear.

    • EC

      “Long trouser” envy from Sebastian, I fear.

    • telemachus

      When Andrew Mitchell was head of house at Rugby he ran it with military discipline and doled out military punishments. Hence Thrasher mentioned above. Guess he will sort out the Voice folk

      • Nicholas

        Yes, I always had him pegged as a smug petty tyrant. I’m surprised he didn’t join the Labour party. They have a penchant for disciplining and punishing the public.

  • Coffeehousewall

    The whips are all criminals and anti-democratic. It is against the law to threaten or bribe an MP in the execution of his representative duty, yet this is what the whips are doing all the time. It needs one of them to be reported to the police for breaking the law.

    • telemachus

      Still bitter at the high jack of Conservative Voice

      • Coffeehousewall

        What are you talking about? I have been in discussion about this use of the name for months and fully endorsed it. Why do you think I started using it in the first place.

        • Coffeehousewall

          Is the Spectator going to mention the new Conservative Voice group? Or has it been told not to by Cameron? I am interested to see whether they intend to DO something rather than just talk about things, and whether they are concerned about the nation or only getting the Conservative Party back into power.

    • daniel Maris

      Yes. That would be an excellent idea.

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