It looks like about a third of Tory backbenchers will rebel in tonight’s vote on
an EU referendum. 18 months into government, this is a massive rebellion and one that should make the Prime Minister think again about his style of party management. Those in Number 10 who claim
that many of the rebels will ‘never be happy’ are missing the point that, while there may be a hardcore of MPs keen to rebel, many more are reluctant rebels who feel they have been
pushed into it by Cameron’s failure to engage with the party on the whole issue of Europe.
One reluctant rebel said to me over the weekend: if you write anything about this please say that the whips office needs sorting out. He complained that his whip had only spoken to him once in the
last 12 months, had no idea what interested him and just assumed he would vote for the government regardless of what his constituents or conscience told him.
The whips are also failing in another way. Backbenchers have no confidence that they are listened to in Downing Street, or that the concerns of the backbenches are being communicated to the
leadership. For this reason, any shake-up of the whips office must include sending several of those MPs who are perceived to be closest to Cameron and Osborne socially and politically to the whips