I was horrified to read on Guido that George Osborne has been allocated a ‘sh*t’ room with no view to add further humiliation after the slaughter of the cameroons. I know the feeling. You should see the room I’ve been allocated.
I really don’t believe however, that that there is anything vindictive in any of this. I know the deal, I was once the accommodation whip, and the current holder of that distinguished office could not be a nicer guy.
Personally I should never complain. For three years I enjoyed the best office in Westminster – on the third floor of Number one Parliament Street, with a balcony overlooking Parliament Square, and Big Ben as my wall clock. It was the perfect venue for a party during William and Kate’s wedding. Andrew Mitchell has it now.
When you become a minister you give up your room in the Commons and instead you get allocated something more like a ‘booth’ in one of the dark and dingy ministerial corridors. Ministers have their real offices in their department of state elsewhere in Whitehall. I had the most magnificent room in the Old Admiralty building that Winston Churchill occupied from 1911-1915 when he was First Sea Lord. It’s only a week since I was purged and I miss it terribly.
The problem facing the accommodation whip is this: there is no stock of empty rooms. So, ministers that are being dismissed have to swap with those being promoted. As a general rule the ministers being dismissed are relatively senior and have correspondingly high expectations. Those being promoted to ministerial rank however, tend to be relatively junior and consequently have less desirable accommodation to give up. The only way to handle this mismatch is to allocate the choice of rooms strictly according to a rule, and that rule is in order of seniority determined by year of first election.
Ex ministers whose pride is already hurt, can be even more discombobulated when they see the quality of the accommodation that the whip has to offer, but as I used to say when I had that unenviable job: “you weren’t elected to sit in a room, but to sit in the chamber of the Commons”. I’m not sure that it cheered them up though.