Whip’s Notebook: Cameron may have reshuffled the pack but his troops aren’t happy

by Jon Ashworth

Number 10 may begin regretting reinstating the September sitting. While we have had an important and moving statement from the prime minister on Hillsborough, the remainder of government business in the Commons has – as usual – been patchy.

Last week’s reshuffle seems only to have caused further friction for the prime minister with his backbenchers and has left many wondering what on earth is going on with the PM’s political operation.

Even Labour MPs find it hard to fathom why seemingly competent and popular ministers such as (now Sir) Edward Garnier and Charles Hendry got the chop. What’s more it’s extraordinary that sacked men got knighthoods but, as Labour’s Ann McKechin pointed out, there was nothing like a dame for sacked women

Instead friends of Cameron, Osborne and Eric Pickles seem to be the ones who’ve won promotion in the reshuffle such as the elevation of the chancellor’s right hand man Matt Hancock.

Mr Hancock has been a junior minister in the business department for barely a week and already he is comparing himself to Churchill and Disraeli.

Over in the Pickles’ department for communities the hitherto relatively unknown MP for Great Yarmouth, Brandon Lewis, was promoted from backbenches in place of the generally liked Bob Neil.  It turns out this new minister’s qualification for the job is that he once used to present a radio show with Eric Pickles on Brentwood’s Phoenix FM.

The government whips office was more or less cleared out with surprising names returning to the backbenches such Shailesh Vara.  Whereas most of the dumped ex-whip just have to settle for being backbench MPs again, the new Tory whips are doing their best to sweeten the bitter pill for the prime minister’s old Eton chum and sacked ex-whip Bill Wiggin by trying to get him installed as the (remunerated) chair of committee of selection.

In so doing they are trying to push out the current chair and Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown who also happens to have been a Lords rebel. This move by Tory whips was causing much annoyance in the tearoom this week.

Meanwhile rumours persist that disgruntled ex-ministers are plotting with apparently 14 MPs firing off letters of no confidence in the prime minister’s leadership of the Tory party. Labour MPs have certainly witnessed Tory MPs in huddles whispering about their unhappiness with leadership.

One sign of the discontent was clear at the shambles that unfolded at this week’s delegated legislation committee on the draft victims of overseas terrorism and draft criminal injuries compensation scheme.

The government’s first mistake was the bungled combining of a broadly supported statutory instrument on compensation for victims of overseas terrorism with a much more controversial statutory instrument on criminal injuries compensation.

The changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme that the government were trying to push through would have resulted in a cut of between £40m and £60m a year from the £200m cost of the scheme.

The effect of this cut would have meant that 48 per cent of victims currently eligible for compensation would receive nothing in future, even for quite serious and permanent injuries.

The government’s second mistake was one of basic whipping.

Surprisingly the government whips never realised that the government members placed on the committee by the very same whips wouldn’t support these cuts to the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

So as the debate unfolded and the newly appointed minister Helen Grant read out her statement she was hit by a barrage of critical interventions from Tory MPs including John Redwood who amazingly said,

“I have never been shy about saying that I would like us as a Government to spend less overall, but I have never once thought that it had to be done by cutting something so sensitive or giving a worse deal to the disabled, the poor or the most vulnerable”.

Similar points were made by other Tory MPs on the committee including Angie Bray, Bob Blackman and Jonathan Evans who even quoted research from the CWU and the impact of the cuts on posties who are attacked by dogs when delivering the mail. Good on him!

The government whip soon began to realise that if the merry band of Redwood, Bray, Blackman and Evans voted with us Labour MPs then the government would have been defeated.

As it happens, if they had abstained then the government would have squeaked through by one vote assuming the Liberal members voted with them. So the upshot was the minister was forced to stand on her head two hours later and in her closing statement pull both the proposed statutory instruments.

No one is now quite sure what they are going to do next. Not a happy start for Helen Grant in her new ministerial role.

The good news for the Tory whips though is we only have two days in parliament next week before breaking for the conference recess.

The bad news is that we’ll soon be back with the long run up to Christmas and with the indications that George Osborne will be forced to abandon his promises on debt and the deficit, things aren’t looking good for the prime minister or his whipping operation.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South and an opposition whip

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “Whip’s Notebook: Cameron may have reshuffled the pack but his troops aren’t happy”

  1. Tris says:

    Has anyone ever seen such an incompetent government?

    I appreciate that coalition is not easy. It takes real skill, and real will.

    I also understand that a brand new team with little or no ministerial experience was bound to be shaky at first.

    I also know that governments coming to the end of their life, after 10 or 15 years, tired, out of ideas and as popular as a bad smell in an elevator will have these problems…

    But… this lot are 2.5 years old. In short not new, not old.

    They have no excuse, except ineptitude, for getting everything wrong.

  2. swatantra says:

    They still haven’t got their heads around Coalition Politics.
    Yet, around the world, its commonplace and no big deal.

Leave a Reply