Labour Whips Know a Thing or Two About Intimidation

Now that William Wragg has accused the whips of “intimidation” and “blackmail“, Labour MPs such as Angela Rayner and Lisa Nandy have immediately attacked the government for “playing politics” over these “serious allegations”, and demanded an investigation. Serious allegations” in this case meaning ‘briefing the press’.

To pretend that any of this is a new form of whipping is disingenuous, and you needn’t look any further than Labour’s own history to understand that: Nick Brown – the former Chief Whip under Blair, Brown, Miliband, Corbyn and even Starmer – was notorious for his fierce discipline over Members. He had the most feared reputation out of almost anyone in the tearoom. Here’s a flavour of the headlines Nick Brown attracted over his tenure:

  • Suggested banning MPs who rebelled from sitting on all-party parliamentary select committees
  • Was described as a “ruthless political enforcer on behalf of Gordon Brown” who would be “hostile” to MPs who didn’t support the leadership
  • Threatened to ban MPs from going on parliamentary trips
  • Named and shamed” 21 rebels who didn’t fall in line with John McDonnell’s opposition to “austerity measures

It wasn’t just Brown, either…

In 2001, then-Labour MP Paul Marsden accused the whips – particularly Jim Dowd and Gerry Sutcliffe – of physically and verbally assaulting him like “thugs” for criticising Blair’s anti-terrorism bill. Then in 2016, Corbyn and Labour whips were also accused of “bullying tactics” by MP Conor McGinn, when McGinn alleged the then-Labour leader had “proposed using my family against me in an attempt to bully me into submission.” A claim which, obviously, Corbyn emphatically denied…

Either way, expecting the whips to entice potential rebels with a handshake and a smile – on either side of the aisle – is pure fantasy. Lobby hacks writing shocked and breathless reports about arm-twisting whips are frankly taking readers for fools.

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