The Prime Minister needed to reassure his own side at PMQs today on the EU budget and give his whips something to work with. He largely did that, saying almost immediately that his position was that at best, he’d like it cut and at worst, frozen.
That Cameron has said he’d like it cut will give those of his backbenchers who stick with him tonight some cover. They’ll be able to say that they’re supporting the government which already wants a cut.
Ed Miliband’s decision to lead on the issue and try and use it to paint Cameron as ‘weak’ has also made the issue more partisan. I suspect that a few Tory MPs who might otherwise rebel will balk at walking through the lobbies with Ed Balls.
But the whips will still have a job to do to avoid a defeat tonight. The vote is expected at about 7pm and both sides now view it as simply too close to call.