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.
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.
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.
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’.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.