As expected, Nick de Bois’ amendment to the Criminal Courts and Justice Bill passed 404 votes to 53. It owes nothing to the Conservative frontbench, which abstained for reasons I’ve tried my best to outline here (it’s difficult to explain something that doesn’t make a grab deal of sense, especially when both parties have voted in different ways before, as on the boundary changes). And it owes nothing to the Liberal Democrats, who opposed the measure in Cabinet and in this vote.
The result this evening is an example of the way the Coalition has reshaped the workings of government. Can’t get the Cabinet agreement you need on a policy? Let it rise up from the backbenches instead and hope for an unholy alliance with the Opposition. The Tories are of course practising the same logic with the EU referendum bill, having been frustrated on introducing this as a government bill for a second time by the Lib Dems, but they will not get Labour’s support for that piece of legislation.
The Tory backbenches have become more important and dangerous under this Coalition. Rebellious Conservatives dramatically changed the way the government works, as illustrated by the revolt on the Immigration Bill led by Dominic Raab. But backbench MPs are now also important ministerial weapons. They can introduce legislation that a Coalition partner will block at Cabinet level, although as David Cameron knows, this new power won’t always benefit him: his MPs are just as likely to introduce legislation he’d quite like his Coalition partners to block.
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