George Eaton, blogging at The Staggers goes against the prevailing tide and reckons that Cameron called it right on the EU referendum Commons vote. Eaton’s first proposition is that
the likely consequence of allowing a free vote would have been an even larger rebellion. As John Rentoul noted yesterday, the number of rebels could have exceeded 120, a majority of Tory backbenchers. Today’s headlines would have been even worse for the PM.
Well, Malcolm also say that Rentoul proposition. It amounts to little more than what was going round when Malcolm considered the topic previously.
All in all, Mandy Rice-Davies Applies. Rentoul and Eaton are not guilty of any deliberate misrepresentation here; but they are missing the significance of the numbers.
Let’s sum up what fell out in last night’s Commons vote. 81 Tory MPs broke the Whip. Two voted both ways (apparently, it’s the present version of Frank Maguire‘s “abstaining in person”). Another fifteen didn’t show. Add that little lot together and we’re two shy of three figures.
In his previous effort Malcolm calculated the Tory pay-roll vote to be over 60 MPs — probably even 65. Then there are those who have been discreetly promised promotion in next year’s re-shuffle — provided their noses stay clean. More still have inflated self-esteem which convinces them they should be heading up the greasy pole. We ought by now to be reaching three figures: a third of the parliamentary party.
So, we can check out the division this way: give or take a handful here and there, a third of the parliamentary Tory vote went AWOL, a third were on board and along for the ride, and the final third put loyalty above self-preservation. In each case, much good may it do them.
We might raise an eye-brow and wonder what other pressures the Whips might apply. That’s more carrot and and a lot more stick. Are there any foreign junkets and jollies coming up, at the Whips’ disposal? Tim Renton, who was Margaret Thatcher’s Chief Whip wrote an excellent account of The Role, History and Black Arts of Parliamentary Whipping. Once upon a time the Tory Chief Whip carried a legendary “Black Book” which itemised individual MPs’ sexual and financial scrapes, all there to be applied at arm-twisting time. According to chief whip Patrick McLoughlin the book still exists, but is actually blue.
If a rebel MP happened to find his spouse or constituency chairman became aware of a recent folly, or — shock, horror! — the ears and note-books of the lobby reptiles were twitching, that would be merely a coincidence, perhaps? But, as sure as day follows night, the Whips would be mentioning it as an awful warning to others next time.
One should never set the bar of political morality too low.