There is now a hardcore of rebels in the Conservative party who have defied the government on three key votes. The 37 MPs below have rebelled on the EU referendum vote, the House of Lords Reform Bill, and the EU budget.
The question for the whips and the Prime Minister now is do they write these MPs off their Christmas card lists as forever-rebels, or do they launch a charm offensive that could melt even the steely heart of Peter Bone? I blogged yesterday about some of the problems that the Conservative leadership is creating for itself in terms of party loyalty, and while Bill Cash is hardly going to become chief whip, there may be others in this group who aren’t beyond rescue. The Lords reform vote picked up a significant number of MPs who were not part of the 81 who had defied the whip over an EU referendum. Last night’s vote did see a few new faces, too:
Out of the five who had not voted against the government on Europe before, Jack Lopresti was the only one rebelling for the first time last night: it will be interesting to see whether the whips manage to claw him back or whether he is now on a rebellious trajectory. The next big test will be the real vote on the deal that Cameron brings back with him from Brussels. Chances are that there won’t be a deal at all and that the Prime Minister vetoes the settlement. But if he does get the real-terms freeze that he has set out as his aim, then he and the whips will need to persuade those 53 rebels from last night to back him in the Commons when they have put their names to a demand for a cut.
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