I’ve had a large correspondence applauding the PM’s action in removing the whip from a score of Tory rebels. A minority have complained however, that the action was disproportionally harsh given that many in the Government were rebels previously and were never so sanctioned. Indeed, I’ve rebelled on occasion with not so much as a harsh word from my whip.
Political parties are, under our electoral system, ‘broad churches’ that share a general approach to political and social issues but nevertheless there are bound to be disagreements about some policies or the details of their implementation. No-one should be punished for such disagreement.
When I was a whip my only expectation was that those colleagues for whom I was responsible, would inform me with reasonable notice that they had difficulty with a forthcoming vote. I would organise a meeting with the responsible minister to see if their reservations could be addressed.
If they still objected and voted against, well that was all there was to it.
It is a different story however, if the vote in question is actually an issue of fundamental confidence in the Government itself. In which case potential rebels are warned -in terms- that the consequence of rebellion will be the removal of the whip. This was the case with respect to the vote on Tuesday night: they were warned.
(Those former serial rebels, now in the Government, never breached party unity on an issue of confidence.)
So why did the Government treat the vote as an issue of confidence?
The vote on Tuesday night was not just an issue of policy. It was a vote to take away the Government’s power to govern and hand that power to an alliance of opposition parties.
They then subsequently used the power so given to them, to enact a law forbidding the Prime Minister from pursuing his clearly stated policy of leaving the EU on 31 October irrespective of whether a deal had been agreed or not.
This pledge by the PM was the basis on which he so recently won the leadership backed by two thirds of his party and his MPs.
It is hard to see how the rebels could have remained in the governing party after doing this and given the warning they had received.
The result the action on Tuesday and Wednesday is an act of surrender to any terms the EU may impose: The PM is instructed and bound by Parliament, so that if no new agreement is reached, to ask the EU for a further extension of our membership and accept whatever terms they attach to it.
It takes away whatever negotiating cards we have. Why would the EU even consider new proposals when they have been guaranteed such an outcome, with every prospect of our continuing payments, and a the possibility of our leaving being put-off indefinitely?