News of the knighthoods awarded to some of those departing the British government in its latest reshuffle reminded me of an interview I carried out with a whip for this book, on party discipline under Blair. The Labour whip drew attention to a systemic weakness in the patronage available to them:
They look after theirs, we don’t. Tories could always be kept quiet with the promise of a knighthood. Don’t cause trouble and it’ll be Lady Bloggs. But with us, once someone’s been out of government for a bit, along comes the Daily Mail, saying if you slag off the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in the same sentence, it’s a pound a word.
Or as another whip put it, in a different interview: ‘It really annoys me when I hear them going on about Tony’s cronies and all that rubbish. One of our big problems is we don’t have the patronage to give them the things that they want. So they sit and fester’. To some bemusement in the Whips’ Office – ‘I always thought that Labour MPs wouldn’t be impressed by knighthoods, but it’s clear that some of them really want one’ – Labour began to put forward names for knighthoods, beginning with two in 2004 and thus opening up the possibility for more in the future.
Aware already of their sizeable problems with their backbenchers, there is clearly a desire on the party of the Coalition party managers not to have people festering on the backbenches if they can avoid it…