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Everyday tale of upper class folk: Lord Whitby upsets Earl of Shrewsbury and is told House of Lords ‘is not a club’

Everyday tale of upper class folk: Lord Whitby upsets Earl of Shrewsbury and is told House of Lords ‘is not a club’

🕔02.Dec 2013

Chamberlain Files would dearly love to report that Mike Whitby’s elevation to the House of Lords is proving to be a resounding success, but sadly that appears not to be strictly accurate.

The former Tory leader of Birmingham City Council has managed to infuriate party managers by failing to respond to orders and has even been warned he must realise “the place is not a club”.

The 20th Earl of Shrewsbury, a Conservative whip in the Lords, sprang into action after reading a Chamberlain Files account of Whitby’s excuse for absenting himself from Tory group meetings in Birmingham.

The way Whitby told it he was under a three line whip and following orders to remain at his post in the Lords, as much as he would have loved to be in Birmingham where he is still leader of the city council Conservative group.

Not so, says the Earl of Shrewsbury, who fired off the following incendiary email to Chamberlain Files: “I’m fascinated to learn about Lord Whitby’s inability to attend a meeting of his group in Birmingham. He states that he had a three line whip in the House on the 4th November which precluded his attendance.

“I am his Lords whip, and I can assure you that we haven’t had a three-liner for a very long while, and Lord Whitby is not a member of Her Majesty’s Government but a very new backbencher, and learning.

“The noble lord should perhaps realise that having accepted a ‘working peerage’ he should do something about it. This place is not a club, and he was sent here for a purpose – to support the Government in its legislative agenda. AND to respond to the Whips!!”

Shrewsbury is believed to have followed up his email with a formal letter to Lord Whitby, setting out his concerns about the three line whip claim.

The word among those relaxing on the red benches is that the ‘Whitby issue’ has reached the attention of the Tory chief whip in the House of Lords, Baroness Anelay of St John’s, who has asked to be kept informed.

Whitby, meanwhile, has been placed “on probation” by the whips over concerns that he fails to respond to their weekly instructions.

The difficulty of Whitby’s split loyalties first arose a month ago after he failed to turn up at a meeting of the Birmingham Conservative group on the eve of the November council meeting.

He sent his apologies and explained he had been unavoidably detained “on government business” by a three line whip in the Lords.

Days later Lord Whitby issued a statement confirming his intention to lead the Conservatives into next May’s city council elections, where he will not contest his Harborne seat. He reported receiving approval from the Lords whips for leave of absence on Mondays and Tuesdays enabling him to attend council meetings in Birmingham.

The Earl of Shrewsbury was unavailable for comment.

Historical notes: Charles Dickens described the House of Commons as ‘the best club in London’ in his 1864 novel Our Mutual Friend.

Lord Beaverbrook described the House of Lords as ‘the British Outer Mongolia for retired politicians”.

Disraeli declared ‘I am dead, but in the Elysian fields’ when describing life in the House of Lords.

Labour politician Emmanuel Shinwell admitted ‘I went to the Lords because I had nowhere else to go’.

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