Whips have their photo taken

I was informed today by the estimable Deputy Chief Whip, Tommy McAvoy, that he is an avid reader of my blog. He also claims to have access to Twitter. I regard this of course as a great honour. I feel more than a little unworthy to be consuming even a smidgeon of the attention of such a great man, with so many other important things to occupy his time. (And if you’re his researcher, who I suspect is the person who really reads it – I am prepared to offer bribes).

Until the last reshuffle but one, when he was promoted to Deputy, Tommy was the only Government Minister to have occupied the same post since the 1997 election. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were of course runners-up, with ten years apiece in the same posts, and I think Lord Sainsbury lasted almost as long as that as Science Minister.

This morning we had the official annual Whips photo taken at No. 10 Downing Street with the Prime Minister. Photos of the previous incumbents line the corridor walls in No. 9 Downing Street (which links to the Cabinet Office and is where the Chief Whip and his staff reside when they’re not over in the Commons). I could spend hours looking at them. The very first ones date back maybe 100 years or so, with a small group of maybe five or six men in top hats and tails posing raffishly in chairs on the Terrace. My favourite is one from the 1950s with a bunch of Tory whips striding purposefully across the Downing Street lawn, Reservoir Dogs style.

I’m still convinced we should have recreated that this morning, instead of what we did, with a rather uninspired set-up with one row of whips sitting, one row of whips standing and the PM and Chief sitting in the middle. I was obviously standing – tall ones at the back!

The display of photos at No. 9 reveal that there were no women in the Whips Office until Wilson’s 1964 team, where history was made by Harriet Slater. (I have to confess I’ve never heard of her). She served till 1966 and then it was thirty years – thirty years! – before another woman joined the Whips Office, with Jacqui Lait being appointed in the dying years of the Major administration.

And then Labour got elected and pretty soon we had the first female Chief Whip (Ann Taylor, 1998-2001), the second (Hilary Armstrong, 2001-2006) and the third (Jacqui Smith, 2006-2007), as well as a whole host of junior female whips. And the Whips Office became the cuddly, friendly, inviting place, smelling of flowers and cake, that it is today.

I’ll post a copy of the photo when I have one, and I will very, very rigorously vet the comments!

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