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Analysis

Blackmail and bribery won’t get May’s deal over the line

by Nick Kent | 27.11.2018

The unexpected award of a knighthood to a Tory MP has prompted colourful talk about whips trying to get Theresa May’s deal through Parliament with a mixture of blackmail and bribery. It’ll take a lot more than knighthoods and peerages to get it through the Commons

The belated award of a knighthood to eurosceptic Conservative MP John Hayes, who left the government in January after eight years as a minister, has been interpreted as a clumsy attempt by the government whips to secure votes for May’s deal. The award provoked howls of derision with one Brexiter Tory MP, Mark Francois, accusing Hayes of being able to fit his political principles on the back of a postage stamp.

Francois’s gloriously sarcastic letter went on to speculate whether, following the withdrawal of the DUP’s support for the government’s Brexit policy, the whips were “now reduced to handing out knighthoods to malleable colleagues, in a doomed attempt to stave off an almost certain defeat” for the prime minister’s deal.

If the government whips office is indeed doing so, or offering the prospect of promotion to reluctant backbenchers, it is following a not-so proud tradition. In our parliamentary system the whips have few tools at their disposal to get MPs to vote if they don’t want to.

Tory MPs have a tendency to lecture their critics on Edmund Burke’s famous statement that “government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment” and MPs are not bound by their constituent’s opinion but by a duty to the general good.

Faced with such philosophical arguments, whips will sometimes remind an MP that he was hoping for a night off to take his wife to the theatre the next week, or more ambitiously hankers after ministerial office, and suggest that he might cut the lecturing and compromise.

But May let it be known last year that she disapproved of the practice of prime ministers handing out honours willy-nilly to their supporters in Parliament and elsewhere. She was allegedly responding to David Cameron’s resignation honours list in which 13 of his aides and supporters were made life peers and his wife’s hairdresser collected an OBE. The Conservative manifesto in 2017 promised a review of the honours system to refocus it around rewarding “genuine public service”.

Did the whips get the memo? The truth is that in a case like this, where the government is a long way short of securing a majority in the House of Commons, blackmail and bribery will not work. Whatever the motivation for knighting Hayes, he has already indicated that he will be voting against the deal.

The prime minister might have more luck in generating support for her bad deal by promising honours to the business community. Governments of both parties have found that business and trade union leaders are as vulnerable to flattery as the best of us, and there’s nothing like the offer of a knighthood or peerage to get them to support a government initiative. Now there’s something to put in next week’s edition of the No. 10 “Brexit Communications Grid Summary”.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “Blackmail and bribery won’t get May’s deal over the line”

  • This is like a re-run of the referendum. Lies, lies and more lies. My local MP, Suella Braverman, has told her constituents that ‘Britain has good reason fir post-Brexit optimism’. She drip feeds this rubbish all the time. However, the NIESR investigation into the effects of Brexit states that May’s deal will reduce GDP by minus 3.9 percent or minus £100 billion per year. A no deal would be minus 5.5 percent of GDP or £140 billion per year. Who would you trust to give the more accurate assessment?
    Braverman was chair of the ERG, then in a junior minister in the Dept for Exiting the EU, but she resigned because she opposes May’s deal. She is a mate of Baker and Mogg and she would crash out without any deal if it came to it. She is a self-publicist telling us she has hundreds of messages of support for resigning! How can you trust any of these charlatans? They stab each other in the back and will do anything to get their way.