He pledged more free votes on matters of conscience and promised to re-empower the House of Commons in policy decisions, but David Cameron’s given himself a headache that he must surely now be regretting.
The coalition should be given credit for making good on increasing governmental respect for MP’s by creating a powerful mechanism for backbenchers to secure time in the Parliamentary calendar for them to debate topics of their choosing, and for empowering, the Committee to consider petitions that attract over 100,000 signatures, but unfortunately, all the good that government has done in this regard appears to fall by the wayside when the public tell MP’s they want to debate Europe, MP’s manage against real opposition to secure time to debate Europe, and government tells its own backbenchers’ that they’re not allowed a view other than the one they’re told to hold.
On Monday, MP’s will debate whether they’re happy with our current relationship with Europe, whether they think we need to renegotiate our position within Europe, or whether we should simply pull out all together. Clearly either of the latter two points would have serious ramifications for the UK, for Europe, and the economy of all member states, but a recent Youguv Poll revealed that 62% of people (whether pro or anti EU) think the public should have a say in an in or out referendum. And so at least 62% of the public might now be asking why the Prime Minister is so opposed to simply asking the public what they think, unless of course they’re scared of the answer?
This reporter categorically takes no view on whether the UK should be in or out, other than to say that there are economic benefits to continued membership, and there are concerns over Britain’s sovereignty as far as it exists in the current set up – but I hope my readers, viewers and listeners would expect me to be raising the points herein.
But nothing I have said so far in itself causes David Cameron any major headache. Simply put, it would have been virtually impossible for an in / out referendum to have been voted for by MP’s without the active backing of government. There are around 120 Conservative MP’s who are actively against Europe, and believe a renegotiated settlement is needed, and around 50 Conservative MP’s who would actively choose to vote for an in or out referendum. There are literally a tiny handful of other MP’s who would consider backing such a motion, and so out of 650 MP’s, it was a mathematical mega improbability, and I suggest impossibility that this motion would ever have been passed.
The EU debate then was nothing other than a sideshow to the Fox affair, the economy and now Libya, until for reasons entirely unknown to me, the PM decided to set his Whips to work, and use (at time of writing), a three line whip to force members to vote to keep things as they are. Suddenly MP’s are rubbed up the wrong way. Instantly eurosceptics and right wingers in the tory party feel they are being denied a free debate, and they feel bullied and it’s this factor that has complicated things needlessly for David Cameron. PPS’s tell me they’re “seriously” considering a pact to resign and rebel, and Downing Street are worried. All 40 odd PPS’s have been summoned to Number 10 at 1pm on Monday where I’m told the PM will firstly urge them to back the boys in Brussels, and then tell them that they’d be compromising the economy and damaging the party if they don’t play ball. In the final analysis then, it seems likely that most, if not all of the unhappy PPS’s will cave in to pressure, but wow, what a story it’d be if even a couple were true to their word. Michael Crick reported on twitter earlier that sources in Downing Street told him that rebel voters would be excluded from any reshuffle. Interesting eh.
But there is a general feeling among MP’s across the board that if the PM were to compromise, i.e. reduce down to a one line whip, that some might be more willing to help by for instance coming down with a cold for the vote – but for the PM, the best he can now hope for is some kind of deal in which he compromises in return for an obviously divided “unity”.
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