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Inside the whips’ ‘dirt books’

9 July 2014

So all three parties are to trawl their ‘dirt books’ held by the whips and disclose any evidence that they find of child abuse. The role of the whips was raised by Lisa Nandy in the Commons on Monday, when she quoted former Tory chief whip Tim Fortescue, who told Michael Cockerell’s documentary on the whips:

‘Anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say now, ‘I’m in a jam, can you help?’. It might be debt, it might be… a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal in which… a member seemed likely to be mixed up in, they’d come and ask if we could help and if we could, we did.’

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In May 1995, Cockerell wrote a Spectator cover story on this documentary. Here it is in full, with an extract below:

The Whips freely admit that they seek to know all about the lives of their members — not for purposes of blackmail, but because they want to understand any politi- cal or personal pressure which may affect voting intentions. They enter details about the private lives of Tory MPs in what they call the Black Book or the Dirt Book, which is kept locked in the Chief Whip’s safe at No 12. ‘The Dirt Book is just a little book where you write down various things you know or hear about people that may or may not be true,’ says Lord Whitelaw. ‘I think you could make a very good guess what sorts of things it contains.’

Tim Fortescue is more forthcoming: ‘Oh, scandalous stories. When you are trying to persuade a member to vote the way he didn’t want to vote on a controversial issue — which is part of your job — it is possible to suggest that perhaps it would not be in his interest if people knew something or other -very mildly.’

When I asked the National Heritage Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, a Whip from 1987- 90, about the use of the Dirt Book as a Whips’ weapon, he responded with a half- smile, ‘I think that most Whips know rather less about their colleagues’ lives than their colleagues might think — like all police work it’s based to some extent on a confidence trick.’

Dorrell’s point is well illustrated by the recent spate of Tory ‘sex ‘n’ cash’ scandals. Mellor, Yeo, Hamilton, Hughes and a dozen more members of the Government have resigned, while the hapless PPS Stephen Milligan was found dead in bizarre sexual circumstances.

Willie Whitelaw sees this, and deplores it as a prolonged failure of intelligence by today’s Whips: ‘I feel it’s a great shame the Whips did not know all these things in advance. As Chief Whip I would have been sorry if i hadn’t known. I find it surprising that the Whips did not know. And some of the tragedies that have happened might have been avoided if people had known beforehand; it’s much easier to handle things when you do know — the awful thing is to be caught unawares by a scandal.’

Tim Fortescue says that in his days as a Whip, from 1970-73, Tory MPs in financial or sexual trouble would come to the Office and ask for help. ‘And if we could help we would; because if we can get a chap out of trouble, then he’ll do as we ask for ever- more.’ But Rupert Allason claims that today’s Whips’ Office is ‘full of thrusting, ambitious young men — about the last people to whom you would wish to confide some kind of infidelity or indiscretion’.

Tristan Garel-Jones has a different perspective: ‘Never repeated by this loyal brotherhood of Whips are the many acts of kindness to colleagues which are part of their stock-in-trade.’ He goes on to claim that ‘the Whips are the unsung heroes of British democracy’, and adds a quote from Enoch Powell: ‘Parliament without Whips would be like a city without sewers.’

Read the full piece on the Spectator’s archive site.

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Show comments
  • Geordie Bennie

    Did anyone hear the interviews yesterday on BBC Scotland where some Tory MP played down these claims saying anyone doing this kind of thing would be carted off to the police, then later actually admitted that they and the press knew about Jimmy Savile and other now guilty parties of there horrific crimes against these kids?
    From 12:25

  • swatnan

    I bet Murdoch would like to get his hands on that dirt book.

    • rtj1211

      The cost would be a huge sum and a new career, as any Whips betraying confidences like that would be persona non grata for life. They’d have sacrificed a lifetime’s network of friends for a mess of potage. You’d have to be a right grubby little midland banker to consider doing that……

    • Mike Stallard

      …or Max Clifford…

  • jack

    I think you’ll find many MP’s went to the whips probably in the mistaken belief of getting some erotic action, only to find that they never carried real whips and that it was all a lie.

  • Ulysses Returns

    This is turning into a witch hunt that would be beyond the satirical powers of an Arthur Miller or Jonathan Swift. Last night on Sky News Press Preview, the shapely, but deeply stupid leftard Rowena Davis argued that the investigation should be expanded to cover child abuse in the private sector (?) and everywhere else in Britain. The government, not for the first time, is (quite understandably) being dictated to by a public that once attacked a pediatrician in the Sun-led-hysteria induced belief that that this noble profession would advertise itself as a child abuser. I have no doubt that over the course of the last 4 or 5 decades a number of senior figures in Parliament, the Civil Service and the legal profession were pedophiles – the law of averages would dictate nothing less. I also have no doubt that there was a tendency to cover up for these disgusting people – who can forget, for example that the known traitor Anthony Blunt was allowed to continue in society rather than expose the establishment for what it was. I recall from my public school days at Mill Hill in the late 60s that one of the housemasters was a determined kiddy fiddler but even our renowned Headmaster, that great pedagogue (how would the mob deal with that description?) Michael Hart, saw fit to leave him in Different times then and not necessarily better, but I am not convinced that this over-the-top hysteria serves us at all and only further debases the political, legal and journalist professions.

    • realfish

      Your words provide a moment of sanity.

      Meanwhile, to the rest of the mob. Pitchforks…get your pitchforks…lovely pitchforks.

    • Ordinaryman

      It would appear that you believe a crime can be committed, but as long as it’s kept quiet and the perpetrator gains the support of their (possibly like minded) cronies in the form of a cover-up, then waits long enough, the crime should be expunged and forgotten. With regard to your correspondence, the collective attempt to seek justice is not “over-the-top hysteria”. If the political, legal and journalist professions have been debased, it is of their own making and, therefore, deservedly so.

      • Ulysses Returns

        If your reading of my post leads you to believe that I think past crimes should be expunged, then I am either unable to convey my arguments cogently, or you are one of the idiots that believes in conspiracy over common sense. I suspect the latter is the case.

        • Ordinaryman

          I’m afraid nothing can be gained or learnt from a person who’s intellectual argument does not rise above personal insults. Therefore, I have no wish to engage with you any further.

      • Colonel Mustard

        All other European countries have a statute of limitations for these sorts of crimes from 8-12 years. The UK is unique in allowing criminal complaints to proceed many decades after the alleged offences were committed with all the attendant implications for the quality and safety of evidence. There has also been a subtle change in the burden of proof as well as the way in which these sort of offences are considered. Police discretion has also largely disappeared and formal cautions were only recorded nationally from 1995. A decision not to prosecute made in good faith at the time but not adequately recorded should not be automatically taken to be a “cover up”.

        And please don’t infer that my concerns mean I condone any crimes committed.

        • Ordinaryman

          I would not for one minute infer that your concerns in anyway condone “crimes committed”. If my wording appears to express that, then I sincerely apologise. I firmly believe that discussions which promote the cross-fertilisation of thoughts and ideas help all of us, hopefully, to reach a fair and reasonable conclusion.
          I agree that a cover up should not be automatically assumed, but in the same manner, it should not be automatically assumed not to have happened.
          Nevertheless, we are where we are and must work within the current legal framework. If there is a need for a statute of limitations, then, perhaps that is what should form the crux of this discussion.

  • Pootles

    And these people are our ‘leaders’ ? The odd thing is, that as an ordinary bloke, I’ve known, and know, lots of other ordinary men and women who just live decent, straightforward lives – they earn their keep, look after their families, aren’t in debt up to their eyeballs, don’t ‘do’ drugs, look after the family pet, and don’t engage in any criminal or perverted activity. Truly, far too many of the ‘great and good’ are anything but.

  • Colonel Mustard

    So hearsay, rumour and innuendo are now to be used as a basis for evidence? I suspected this trend from recent trial behaviours but we seem to be well on the way to Freisler and kangaroo courts now.

    I wish Parliament was as determined to secure the future of our nation as it is to don sackcloth and ashes and rake up the past (at huge expense).

  • David Booth.

    I think I would have more trust in the political parties if these “Little Black Books” (there must be a lot of them!)
    were examined by an independant person rather than party officials. I just don’t trust the impartiality of politicians in this matter.
    Parliament seems to be riddled with people who are connected to one another ie Butler Schloss & Havers being sister & brother. Even if all is above board it just looks fishy.

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