The Times - UK (2022-01-24)

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the times | Monday January 24 2022 9

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someone who’s obviously a Muslim. I
had no idea what religion she is. The
Labour MP Keith Vaz, who was of
South Asian origin, he actually... was a
Goan Christian. Others are Hindus and
others are Muslims and whatever. But
with her it wasn’t apparent.”
Fabricant was then condemned by
opposition MPs. David Lammy, the
shadow foreign secretary, said: “What

shuffle was reported in that light given
she had been tipped to oversee the HS
rail project.
Ghani is a steering committee
member of the backbench Covid
Recovery Group, which opposed the
December 2020 lockdown and has
voted against other Covid restrictions.
Face it, politics was always a contact
sport, Trevor Phillips, page 26

an appalling, disgraceful thing to say. If
the Tories wanted to show they were
serious about tackling Islamophobia,
they could start by removing the whip
from Michael Fabricant.”
In 2020, when Ghani was removed
from the role, she was replaced by Kelly
Tolhurst, the MP for Rochester &
Strood. Ghani has said she was sur-
prised at the demotion, and the re-

Rebel Tory MPs are considering forc-
ing the chief whip to turn over emails
and texts in an attempt to prove that
they have been blackmailed or intimi-
dated into supporting the government.
With feuds erupting across the Con-
servative Party, some recently elected
MPs are furious with the approach
taken by the government in trying to
win their support on contentious issues.
Last week William Wragg, chairman
of the public administration and consti-
tutional affairs committee and one of
seven Tory MPs who have called for
Boris Johnson to resign, urged his col-
leagues to report the actions of whips to
the Commons Speaker and the police.
Johnson said he had “seen no evi-
dence, heard no evidence, to support
any of those allegations”.
The dismissal of the claims has an-
gered the MPs. One idea being dis-
cussed by them is to send subject access
requests to Mark Spencer, the chief
whip. The requests allow people to use
data protection law to demand
personal data an organisation
holds about them.
Doing so, the MPs be-
lieve, would force Spen-
cer to disclose within a
month any messages,
emails and texts dis-
cussing potential con-
sequences for disloyalty
— either directly to the
MPs or in exchanges
among the whips office.
While MPs are not subject to
freedom of information laws as they are
not public authorities, they must com-
ply with subject access requests. Sub-
ject access requests are filed by the per-
son in question, not a third party. Com-
plying with requests is a legal obligation
under the Data Protection Act 1998.
The fact that the manoeuvre is being
considered underlines the depth of
discord in Conservative ranks.
“A lot of people have been really
taken aback by the extent to which the
whips’ office and No 10 have lashed out
against the claims that have been made.
It is quite clear they are not taking it
seriously,” one MP involved in the dis-
cussions said. “We will force the gov-
ernment to show they are lying.”
One MP said: “Mark Spencer is a
farmer, he’s used to looking after cows.
And cows don’t answer back.”
The Times has reported that some of
the MPs who want to oust Johnson are
considering publishing a “heated
conversation” with the chief whip that
was secretly recorded.
Wragg will meet a detective this
week. “The intimidation of an MP is a
serious matter,” he said in his statement
on Thursday. “Moreover, the reports of
which I’m aware would seem to consti-
tute blackmail. As such it would be my
general advice to colleagues to report
these matters to the Speaker of the
House of Commons and the commis-
sioner of the Metropolitan Police.”
The most specific allegation of intim-
idation has been made by Christian
Wakeford, who crossed the floor last
week to become the Labour MP for
Bury South. He said that he had been
told that if he did not support the gov-
ernment in a vote on school meals then
plans for a new school in his consti-

tuency could be cancelled. He told The
Sunday Times that the person who
made the threat was Gavin Williamson,
then education secretary, and formerly
chief whip under Theresa May.
Wakeford said Williamson told him:
“It’s not very helpful to back an opposi-
tion [motion] against the department
where you’re wanting an extremely
large favour from said department, so
do consider what you’re doing.”
Williamson said: “I don’t have any re-
collection of the conversation as de-
scribed but what I do remember is
working tirelessly with Christian and
others to deliver this school, which I did.
Such major decisions are made after
close analysis of the benefits the invest-
ment will bring and are certainly not
something that can be decided in a brief
conversation like the one described.”
A government source has said: “The
whips’ office spends a huge amount of
time on colleague welfare. They
genuinely care for their flocks. To
suggest that they would bully them is
clearly not accurate.”

News


Islamophobia claims seriously


Rebels plan to turn


screw on chief whip


Henry Zeffman
Steven Swinford Political Editor

Profile


D


uring his brief stint as a
backbencher between
quitting as foreign
secretary in 2018 and
becoming prime minister
in 2019, Boris Johnson was not
exactly a government whip’s dream
(Henry Zeffman writes).
His decision to vote against
Theresa May’s Brexit deal twice
played a large role in her downfall
and paved his path to No 10.
In this period of rebelliousness,
Johnson came into contact with
Mark Spencer, the third most senior
government whip, who joined the
whips’ office at its lowest rung in


  1. As prime minister, Johnson
    chose Spencer to manage discipline,
    a decision welcomed by the party.
    It was a difficult start. Determined
    to drive through a hard Brexit or a
    general election but without a
    majority, Johnson and Spencer did
    not win a vote for six weeks. When
    Johnson withdrew the whip
    from 21 Brexit rebels it was
    Spencer, left, who
    delivered the news.
    When Amber Rudd
    was told she wouldn’t
    have the whip
    restored, it was in a
    letter from Spencer.
    Since the 2019
    landslide it has been
    smoother. Spencer is a
    key part of Johnson’s
    circle, planning September’s
    reshuffle with him for six months.
    Spencer, 52, won Sherwood, in
    Nottinghamshire, from Labour in

  2. Before his election he worked
    for the family farming business and
    was a local councillor. He was a
    Remainer in the 2016 referendum.
    Johnson alighted on a nickname
    for Spencer of Big Farmer — like
    Big Pharma. With the collapsing
    discipline in Conservative ranks now
    compounded by serious allegations
    from a Muslim former minister, the
    prime minister might be feeling a
    little less affection for Spencer.


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fter a career in
investment
banking and at the
BBC, Nusrat
Ghani made
history in 2015 when she
became the first Muslim
woman elected as a
Conservative MP (Nadeem
Badshah writes).
She was elected in
Wealden, East Sussex, five
years after unsuccessfully
standing in the seat of
Birmingham Ladywood, the
city where she grew up.
The election result in
Sussex was the start of a rise
up the political ladder for the
Brexiteer, who was born in
Kashmir to Pakistani parents.
In 2015, she was appointed
a member of the home affairs
select committee. She was
appointed assistant whip and
transport minister in 2018
during Theresa May’s tenure
as prime minister and
consequently became the first
female Muslim to speak from
the Commons dispatch box.
At the time Chris Grayling,
the transport secretary, said
her promotion showed that
the Tories “were a party of
opportunity”. He added:
“We’re the party to provide.

.. the first Muslim woman
minister to speak from the
government dispatch box.”
Ghani wrote: “A century
after women got the vote, I
hope that today young people
can see that regardless of
their background, faith, race,
gender or sexuality, there will
be a warm welcome on the
green benches, and no matter
where you are from you can
achieve your ambitions.”
In 2020 Ghani was
removed from the role and
replaced by Kelly Tolhurst.
Ghani said she was surprised
at the demotion given that
she had been tipped to
oversee the HS2 rail link.
The 49-year-old MP, who
has two children, married
David Wheeldon, the director
of policy and public affairs at
Sky, in 2002.


Profile


Boris Johnson and Nusrat
Ghani in 2015, when she was
her party’s first female Muslim
MP and he was London mayor
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