Whatever happened to the parliamentary whips, once the feared scourge of Westminster?
Brexit has transformed them into figures of virtual impotence, compared with the power they wielded only a few months ago.
In those days if, as a back-bencher, you fell foul of the whips by defying your party’s official line, your entire political career could be on the line.
If you were reported to your local constituency association, chances were you could be “deselected” and not allowed to stand for the party at the next election.
There was talk of the whips having black books containing intimate details of MPs’ peccadilloes, which they would threaten to bruit abroad. And errant MPs could be denied overseas jaunts or put on tedious committees. There was even talk of arm-twisting. An altogether fearsome and all-powerful lot.
But now, nobody gives a fig for them. With scores of MPs voting all over the place over Brexit, the whips have simply lost control, their power evaporated.
It also means Tory MPs, when appealed to by the Prime Minister to unite over Brexit, simply take no notice. Despite accusations of “treachery”, they will continue to be as wayward and disloyal as they choose.
Whether once Brexit is behind us - that will be the day! - the whips will regain their former power is doubtful. Back-benchers have tasted freedom and they are not going to surrender it lightly. Anarchy will continue to reign at Westminster!
- Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner will no doubt be furious with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has appealed to doctors to communicate with their patients, where possible, by email rather than the more conventional letter-writing.
Hancock has said that letters lost in the post could actually lead to loss of life among some patients.
However, Skinner, who is well into his 80s, once told me that he boycotts emails, and won’t respond to constituents who use that form of communication when writing to him. Skinner says darkly that the use of emails costs postmen and women their jobs, so he will have nothing to do with them.