An Interview with the Whips Office – comfy chairs will be provided…

The word ‘whip’, in parliamentary terms at least, is associated with accusations of the ‘dark arts’. But whips are people too, particularly in the Lords, so your intrepid guest editor retrieved his Parliamentary spouse pass and made an appointment…

Dominic Bryce Hubbard, the 6th Baron Addington, is one of five hereditary Peers sitting on the Liberal Democrat benches. He inherited his title in 1982, aged eighteen, but was only able to take up his seat in the House of Lords on reaching his twenty-first birthday. He has held a series of positions, as Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Culture, Media and Sport, on Disabilities and currently on Defence. He became Deputy Chief Whip in 2005.

He is interviewed here by today’s guest editor, Mark Valladares.

MV: Depending upon where you look, you first took up your seat in the House of Lords in 1983 or 1986. Which is correct?

DA: 1986. It was a surreal experience. I would not have turned out for the second day if I had been brave enough to admit how scared I was, although, as a summer job, it was better than the previous year – I’d been a labourer working for a landscape gardening firm.

MV: What was it like, being one of the youngest members?

DA: When I first began, Nancy Seear was the leader of our small, increasingly aged group, whilst Geoff Tordoff was chief whip, and the House was dominated by the hereditary Peers. It was some of the Conservative hereditaries who took me under their wing. They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t on their benches, but they didn’t seem to mind much.

I began to attend regularly in 1998, and began to make speeches on a regular basis whilst recovering from a hamstring injury sustained playing rugby.

MV: What changes have you seen in the time you’ve been in the Lords?

DA: The House has become much more professionalised, with increasing dominance by ex-MPs, particularly on the Labour benches. They find it difficult to adapt to the more consensual atmosphere in the Lords, bringing with them an attitude of “we want to be disciplined, we want to be told off by Teacher”.

I’ve also experienced two dominant governments, one Conservative, the other Labour. Neither of them ever thought that they would leave office, and Labour in particular thought that if they stayed the same, society would change to suit them. After one particularly grim debate, Nancy Seear exclaimed, “I preferred Old Labour to New Labour, at least they had some bloody principles!”.

MV: How does being a Whip in the House of Lords work?

DA: It is as much about being an information point, and in coalition that means working more closely with the Conservative Whips to co-ordinate and share information.

In opposition, it was about keeping colleagues informed about events and persuading them to stay using all the tools at a Lords Whip’s disposal – begging, pleading and, occasionally, a little moral blackmail! It’s amazing how effective having a seventeen stone man on his knees begging someone to stay is!

MV: What appeals most about being in the House of Lords?

DA: It’s a very familiar, very comfortable environment. As a dyslexic, it helps that people are interested in what you say, not what you write – I often get complimented on my ability to speak without notes. Given that I find speaking from notes awkward, it’s a virtue born of necessity.

MV: How do you see your future in the Second Chamber?

DA: There are so many unanswered questions. What does the Government mean by ‘grandfathering’? What will the nature of the role be in an elected, or mainly elected, house? Depending on the answers to those questions, I may run for election, but perhaps you should leave somewhere if you’ve been there long enough…

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