So Labour did save the government’s bacon by voting against the Raab amendment on deportation while the government abstained on it. 97 MPs backed Dominic Raab’s amendment with the two tellers, that’s 99 MPs): a very clear message to ministers. This includes 86 Conservatives, according to the vote analysis, and 9 Labour MPs. The Mills amendment wasn’t voted on, so we’ll never know how successful the whips were in driving that rebellion to ground.
There are a number of things that are remarkable about this. The first is the utter disorganisation not just within the parties but also across the parties. The Opposition decided to vote against something that the government told them was illegal but the government itself did not vote against it. Which makes the government look confused at best. The second is that Tory MPs are now disrupting and changing the way government works far more than the Coalition has. When Labour was due to abstain on the Raab amendment, ministers were saying they were confident they’d get enough changes to the rebel clause in the Lords. Which is an odd way of governing, disregarding the Commons. Number 10 sources described it to me earlier as a ‘brilliant idea’. I’m not sure it’s worked out that way.
There are also some Labour MPs who are furious that their party has bailed out the government by opposing the amendment. Some think it is significant enough that David Blunkett was a co-signatory, while others are annoyed that it appears to have been a deal struck between the Labour whips and the Tory whips on a messy bill. Nine Labour MPs did rebel on this.
But what does this mean for the Tory whips? They might be trying to smarten up their act, but it wasn’t enough to stop a big rebellion today. I’ve spoken to one who privately thinks this is a sign that Sir George Young must go as chief whip before the European elections, saying: ‘The only thing that bailed out the inept whips operation was a more inept Labour whips operation.’ Another one agrees that deputy chief whip Greg Hands has jazzed things up, saying: ‘Hands is better than Young but it’s not a high bar.’
P.S. PA says that Conservatives Robert Buckland, Peter Bottomley and Geoffrey Cox all voted against the Raab amendment.