Who is chief whip? What is Tory MP Mark Spencer’s role in UK government - and whips meaning in politics

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Sherwood MP Mark Spencer has been chief whip for three years and joined the Tory whips’ office in June 2016

The Conservative Party has been embroiled in more infighting as reports suggest rebel Tory MPs are considering publishing a secret recording and text messages linked to allegations of “blackmail” from the prime minister’s supporters.

The Times reported that Tory MPs, keen to see the back of Mr Johnson, have secretly recorded “heated” conversation with the chief whip, as well as text messages to support the accusations.

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It comes in the same week that former Tory transport minister Nusrat Ghani claimed a government whip told her “Muslimness” had been raised as an issue at a Downing Street meeting to discuss a reshuffle.

So, who is the chief whip and what is the meaning of the word in politics?

 Chief Whip Mark Spencer in seen in Downing Street in central London on January 17, 2022 (image: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images) Chief Whip Mark Spencer in seen in Downing Street in central London on January 17, 2022 (image: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)
Chief Whip Mark Spencer in seen in Downing Street in central London on January 17, 2022 (image: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Who is the chief whip?

Mark Spencer has been chief whip now for three years.

His political career went relatively under the radar when he first walked down Whitehall in 2010.

The MP for Sherwood started out as a backbencher for six years, after a stint at Nottinghamshire County Council where he was the shadow spokesman for community safety.

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His big break was in the Tory whips’ office, which he joined in June 2016 just before Theresa May took power, and then quickly rose through the ranks.

Now, Mr Spencer is arguably one of the most important figures in Boris Johnson’s premiership.

In 2019, he was appointed as chief whip by Boris Johnson.

It was the first role Boris Johnson dished out following his victory in the Conservative Party leadership contest three years ago.

Away from politics, Mr Spencer is a farmer and businessman whose family have lived on the edge of Nottinghamshire for four generations.

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Unlike his peers in the Commons, he was not educated at Oxbridge, instead qualifying at Shuttleworth Agricultural College in Bedfordshire.

What does a chief whip do? 

The chief whip is responsible for being in charge of party discipline by enforcing a ‘whipping system’ and the work they do isn’t seen by the media.

The name comes from the term “whipper-in”, the person who, in hunting, would keep the hounds in the pack using a whip.

The chief whip’s job is to make sure that members of their party attends and vote in Parliament as the party leadership wishes, otherwise known as toeing the party line, and trying to convince MPs of the merits of a political argument.

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They are also an important line of communication between the prime minister and the backbenchers, fathoming out the mood and trying to quash any upsets.

William Wragg has urged MPs to report any attempt to “blackmail” them over their support for a no confidence motion against Boris Johnson (Photo: PA)William Wragg has urged MPs to report any attempt to “blackmail” them over their support for a no confidence motion against Boris Johnson (Photo: PA)
William Wragg has urged MPs to report any attempt to “blackmail” them over their support for a no confidence motion against Boris Johnson (Photo: PA) | PA

What are whips?

More generally, each party will have whips. They are MPs or Lords appointed by each party in Parliament to organise their party’s contribution to parliamentary business.

Every week, whips communicate to their MPs or Lords detailing upcoming parliamentary business and special attention is paid to messages underlined three times, known as a‘three-line whip’.

What has William Wragg claimed?

Christian Wakeford MP for Bury South, who defected to the Labour Party, has claimed he was threatened with funding for a new school in his constituency being withheld if he did not vote with the government over free school meals.

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His allegation came shortly after senior Tory MP William Wragg said critics considering triggering a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister were receiving threats to “withdraw investments” from constituencies, as well as “intimidation” from No 10 staff.

A Cabinet minister has now suggested an investigation will be carried out into the former Tory MP’s “very serious” allegation he was threatened over school funding if he defied Boris Johnson.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng conceded he could not rule out the claim from Christian Wakeford, but alleged it could be an attempt to “discredit” the government after he defected to Labour.

Mr Wragg, the chair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the threats could amount to “blackmail” and urged colleagues to report them to the police.

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Mr Wragg is due to discuss his concerns with a Scotland Yard detective this week.

What has Nusrat Ghani said?

Nusrat Ghani said when she lost her job as a transport minister in 2020, a government whip told her “Muslimness” had been raised as an issue at a Downing Street meeting to discuss the reshuffle.

Her explosive claim in an interview with The Sunday Times brought immediate condemnation from Conservative MPs and opposition parties alike, with demands for an inquiry.

Tory MP Nusrat Ghani who has accused a government whip of telling her that she was sacked from her ministerial post because her Muslim faith was making colleagues uncomfortable (image: UK Parliament)Tory MP Nusrat Ghani who has accused a government whip of telling her that she was sacked from her ministerial post because her Muslim faith was making colleagues uncomfortable (image: UK Parliament)
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani who has accused a government whip of telling her that she was sacked from her ministerial post because her Muslim faith was making colleagues uncomfortable (image: UK Parliament) | PA

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said there was no place for Islamophobia or any form of racism in the party, and that her allegations must be “investigated properly and racism routed out”.

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But in a dramatic move, chief whip Mark Spencer said that he was the individual who spoke to Ms Ghani – although he strongly denied using the words claimed.

“To ensure other Whips are not drawn into this matter, I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.”

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