Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Is Hilary Armstrong the worst Chief Whip ever?

I can't claim the credit for this question. The great Peter Oborne originally posed it in his Spectator column back in 2002 before answering in the affirmative. Unfortunately I can't include a link as the Spectator archive doesn't appear to go back that far....

But Oborne was right of course. Armstrong was a competent enough local government minister from 1997-2001 and deserved a promotion, but this was always going to be the wrong job for her. Despite her name, the ability to strong-arm recalcitrant Labour MPs into backing the Government is not part of her political armoury.

Armstrong has survived for nearly five years in the Whip's Office for the simple reason that, with a majority of 161, it just wasn't a very important job, as reflected in the fact that after her appointment, she was forced to give up the old Chief Whip's quarters at 12 Downing St to make way for Alastair Campbell.

Now, however, with Labour's majority cut to 66, and the Government suffering its two unexpected defeats on the religious hatred legislation, Armstrong has suddenly found herself in the firing line.

Tony Blair's loyalty to Armstrong extends beyond keeping her in a job for which she is so obviously unsuited. He also employs her husband, Professor Paul Corrigan, as his health adviser at Number 10, to the consternation of the health unions who know Corrigan to be a privatisation freak.

Back in 2001, when he was an adviser to Armstrong's North-East chum Alan Milburn at the Department of Health, it was revealed he was also working as a lobbyist for dozens of firms which have won lucrative NHS contracts, a story which deserves a much more prominent place in the annals of Labour sleaze.

Feb 2 Update.Oborne has returned to the attack in today's Daily Mail. Still no link sadly as he doesn't appear to be one of the Mail's featured online columnists (shame!) but here's a taste of what he had to say.

"Hilary Amstrong is just a harmless drudge. She commands as much mystique as a wet blanket and inspires as much fear as a tabby cat." Miaow!


skipper said...

Labour's Chief whips have not been that distinguished. Ann Taylor, a local MP once held the post and I recall was no great shakes. She once came to give a talk to a student conference I organised and gave possibly the least impressive talk I've ever heard from a politician of any stripe. Not like the days of the formidable Bob Mellor. Armstrong will not last till Easter I predict, especially as there is choppy water to navigate between now and then.

Paul Linford said...

Agree Ann Taylor was fairly useless, but her predecessor Nick Brown was a good Chief Whip in my view - he had that necessary air of menace! Unfortunately from his point of view he was perceived as too close to Gordon for Blair's liking.

I'm afraid to say the worst speech I ever heard came from David Davis. A shame because I like him in all other respects!