Comment: MP’s departure will be sad loss for Labour
For those who think there is something slightly sadomasochistic about politics, the knowledge that there are people called whips wandering around parliament perhaps only strengthens this notion.
These shadowy MPs, who are not allowed to speak in debates, put down motions or do any of the things which court public attention, are the enforcers for the party machines who make sure MPs stay in line and vote when supposed to.
It is a difficult, unrewarding job. Over the weekend, one of the best – Midlothian MP Davie Hamilton – announced he is to retire in May, leaving a giant gap in the Labour benches. The legend of Mr Hamilton’s ability as a whip is summed up in a story often told, when he supposedly called in an MP from the 2010 intake to offer some friendly advice.
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“Some of your colleagues tell me you’re a ****,” he said to the surprised MP. And as the MP opened his mouth to protest, he put up a hand to silence him and added: “I’ve looked into it and you are a ****! Stop it!”
But through the blunt talking, Mr Hamilton has made a success of being a whip through being a father figure to younger MPs, a friend to others, a great organiser and a tough negotiator.
One of his unheralded successes was persuading Tory back-bencher Dominic Raab to talk out his own motion on limiting the role of Scottish MPs and scrapping the Barnett Formula to avoid a damaging vote last November.
So much will Mr Hamilton be missed – especially with the prospect of Labour maybe needing to do a post-election deal with the SNP – it is understood Ed Miliband called Mr Hamilton’s wife to try to persuade him to stay on.
However, Mr Hamilton was not always the gamekeeper. In the Blair years he was not in the New Labour mould and voted against the Iraq war in 2003 despite being in Washington on the day of the 9/11 attacks.
But the reason for his early rebel status and his latter brilliance as a whip comes from being one of the few genuine working class heroes left on the Labour benches.
In 1984 Mr Hamilton was a leading figure during the miners’ strike. His efforts saw him wrongly imprisoned, unfairly sacked and then blacklisted from employment for many years. Few modern politicians have risked and suffered so much in their careers. It would take a brave Scottish Nationalist to use the “red Tory” jibe about Mr Hamilton to his face.
The favourite to take the seat is the well-liked Kenny Young, who like many modern MPs cut his political teeth as a party hack. So while the Labour leadership and fellow MPs will miss Mr Hamilton, the greatest gap he will leave is another break with the party’s working class roots.