Coffee House

The whips are getting stronger – but will it be enough to stop Raab?

30 January 2014

So now that the Speaker has called Dominic Raab’s amendment on deportation, the government whips have a frenzied few hours ahead of them as they try to peel off rebels. But this amendment has 106 signatures (two have joined since yesterday) and the rebels are expecting more to back it too. Labour told Coffee House yesterday that it will not support something that is illegal – but that still leaves room for the party to abstain rather than vote against.

So we now have a situation where the amendment that caused all the fuss over the past few months – the Mills amendment on transitional controls for Bulgarian and Romanian migrants – is diminishing in support, while the Raab amendment, which snuck in at the last minute, is growing in power and causing all the fuss at the last minute. Why is this?

There has been a great deal of bickering in the eurosceptic camp over the past few weeks about the Mills amendment. Some MPs are frustrated that Mills and his colleagues jumped too early: they would have preferred a fight after the European elections. Others are annoyed about the rebel whipping operation, describing it as disorganised and lacking the power to hold on to would-be rebels. There are also a number of MPs who are still furious about the way the Bernard Jenkin letter was handled, feeling it was disorganised and embarrassing. Perhaps there is also a sense among some Tory MPs that even the dreaded ‘europhile’ tag isn’t enough to keep them backing rebellions any more. It’s worth listening to Douglas Carswell explain why he has turned his back on the Mills amendment on our podcast.

Fraser Nelson & Douglas Carswell on rebelling Tories (from 8:38):

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But there is also a sense that the whips are getting stronger and more organised. Greg Hands is clearly working hard to seal the deal for his promotion to chief whip when Sir George Young retires, but he is being helped by new whips Gavin Barwell and Amber Rudd. I understand that the whips now run regular ’round table’ discussions with a handful of backbenchers at a time where they invite MPs to suggest strategy ideas and raise problems that they’ve spotted. They also run a daily email which sets out very clearly and succinctly the Commons business for the day, what the whip will be on each vote and whether that may become a stronger whip later, whether the House is likely to rise earlier than planned, and what each vote entails. That last point is important, because MPs often feel as though they are being pushed through the lobbies to vote for things without really knowing what they’re supporting.

This seems to be part of an effort on the part of the whips to treat MPs as though they are grown-ups, rather than lobby fodder, and it does seem to be working. But at the same time, the whips are being tougher and more proactive. As I explained earlier in the week, they were referring wavering backbenchers to the Prime Minister much quicker than whips have in previous rebellions. They’ve also come down like a ton of bricks on MPs who have accidentally missed even reasonably unimportant votes. The message seems to be: we’ll trust you, listen to you, and respect you until you breach our trust, when we’ll get tough. It’s worth noting, though, that the Prime Minister still isn’t fully impressing colleagues with his efforts to draw nearer to his MPs. Most accept he still has a great deal of work to do.

Whether this approach will yield much on this afternoon’s Raab amendment is another matter, though. I suspect not, as Raab as been organised. The Home Secretary is currently opening the debate on the report stage of the Bill in the Commons: there are many more twists and turns to come yet.

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Show comments
  • David Webb

    Carswell is clearly reasoning Cameron might win the election and give him a job. I think Carswell’s “eurosceptic” credentials are about as believable as William Hague’s!

  • OriginalChris

    Interesting comment on Carwell “going native”. I am not impressed or convinced by Carswell either.

  • James Strong

    So there is discontent at some tactics employed. But some other tactics are starting to look more effective.Yadda, yadda, yadda.
    Bu, leaving tactics aside,t how many will vote in what they believe is the national interest?
    I would vote for Raab’s amendment.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well, the Speccie kids have a job to do. The world needs scorekeepers too, you know… those skilled craftsfolk who swap out the scoreboard placards at golf and tennis tournaments everywhere, so we can all look up and see who’s in front and who’s moving up. What would we do without these tireless artisans, facelessly laboring behind the scenes? I shudder to think of it.

  • kyalami

    While whipping is crucial for political parties, all to often it appears not to be in the interests of the country.

  • Slim Jim

    All this fighting like ferrets in a sack; but what about the trust and respect of their constituents? Are they listening to them?

    • AnotherDave

      The split on the EU is not so much within the parliamentary Conservative Party, as between the Cameroons (who are the majority of the parliamentary Conservative Party), and the voters.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        The Cameroons have only 2 choices. They can keep Dave and watch him lose badly, and take his station among the bumbling footnotes of history, or they can dump him and have a chance to build on a firm foundation, by absorbing UKIP ideas and their followers.

        Well, there is a 3rd choice, I suppose. They could dump Dave and bring on Tony Blair as their leader. That would at least have the merits of honesty.

        • Kitty MLB

          No, dear chap, The Conservative Party ( not ghastly camservative invaders ) have only one option!
          They clearly will not remove Cameron before the election,
          and they have said if he ends up in another coalition they will be after his blood!
          That will be far too late for the genuine and loyal grassroots
          who have seen Cameron take a sledgehammer to the foundations of their party.
          We need to be in opposition for a while and regroup
          under a real Conservative leader, and at the end of the day
          Milipede is no Blair.
          Balls will also be back on the rampage, yet I think people have
          short memories a little reminder will be quite refreshing for the poor little mites.
          UKIP ideas are also what Conservative ideas used to be
          until Cameron drank from Blair’s poisoned chalice.

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