Cameron suffers biggest revolt of leadership (oh, and some thoughts on the Lib Dems, too)

by Stephen Tall on March 6, 2008

Well, the Lib Dem parliamentary party may not exactly have covered itself in glory yesterday – but at least we can console ourselves with the fact that yesterday’s Commons’ votes exposed the Tories as just as split as ever on Europe. This from Philip Cowley’s excellent

The party leader abstained, but a quarter of his party disagreed with him, leading to the largest rebellion since he assumed the leadership. Not Nick Clegg, but David Cameron.

As everyone examined the damage done to Nick Clegg’s leadership by the largest Lib Dem rebellion in six years, the Commons also divided on New Clause 9 in the name of William Cash. It stated that nothing in the new Treaty of Lisbon should be construed by any court in the United Kingdom as affecting the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament.

The Conservative frontbench line was to abstain. But 40 Conservative MPs, including 12 members of the 2005 intake, voted for Cash’s clause. Europhile Ken Clarke voted with the Government in the no lobby. This was the largest Conservative rebellion since David Cameron came to power, involving a quarter of his MPs. It was also the largest rebellion by MPs of any party during the passage of the Bill to date.

Since no-one else seems to be reporting this, we thought we’d better let you know…

Yesterday’s media interest in the Lib Dems’ troubles resulted from two points:

1) the party isn’t usually divided on Europe, so the fact that there was a split in the ranks aroused curiosity. We are a proudly internationalist party which is, by and large, strongly in favour of a reformed, transparent and democratically accountable EU. Yesterday doesn’t alter that one jot. The contrast with Labour’s and the Tories’ disinterest-cum-hostility to the EU couldn’t be sharper.

2) that this was Nick Clegg’s first real test as leader. I’m genuinely curious to know why it was decided to impose a three-line whip on abstention on a Lisbon Treaty referendum. A free vote on the issue would have been perfectly easy to justify, and would have avoided yesterday’s debacle. There must be a logical reason why Nick decided on this rigid course – but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it was.

Ultimately, yesterday’s events will blow over. Yes, it was badly handled, but let’s get things in perspective. All leaders suffer a sticky patch – think Gordon’s Brown’s election-dithering, or David Cameron’s grammar school problems. The key question is what they learn from it. I’m sure that’s something Nick is reflecting on today.

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How many MPs do we have? Is it 63? A quarter of 63 is about 15 or 16? I’m sure only 13 rebelled fidn’t they? That makes it a fifth, or 20%, not a lot of difference but it matters when the numbers are so small…

Why do the BBC and other media outlets think we only have 52 MPs?

by Jo on March 6, 2008 at 1:25 pm. Reply #

Stephen Tall

There’s a correction immediately after the text you quoted, saying that it was actually a free vote for Tory backbenchers!

Chris Phillips

by cgp on March 6, 2008 at 1:32 pm. Reply #

Jo I think that is semantics, it was bad be it 20, 25 or 15% of the party.

I have commented further on a closed forum but this is far from out finest hour and a real bit of unwanted/bad PR for us.

by Big Mak on March 6, 2008 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

Yes I agree but surely 20% sounds less offensive than a quarter?

I agree it was a bit of unwanted PR but will play itself out in the end…

by Jo on March 6, 2008 at 2:44 pm. Reply #

Surely there is a contradiction in asking why Nick imposed a three line whip and then comparing our position to Tories, who didn’t.
Are you not saying he should have done the same as Cameron?

by Sal on March 6, 2008 at 2:48 pm. Reply #

The fact that it was a free vote for the Tories just makes Clegg’s insistence on a three line whip worse.

Having said that, it isn’t a trick that Cameron can continue to play in government. I’ve been banging on about the fact that they rebel against his line and he lets them for years now. This isn’t a party that looks like it could run a paper bag, let alone a country.

Admittedly, that’s fighting talk coming from a Lib Dem at the moment. But no less true.

by James Graham on March 6, 2008 at 3:17 pm. Reply #

How can you all talk about the details! This was as shameful a performance as I have seen for years. Democracy! What democracy. Britain’s government consists of three parties that will never give the people a vote on Europe (no matter what nick clegg says he really wants) because they would lose that vote. Time for a change.

by BJH on April 15, 2008 at 2:41 am. Reply #

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