One of the lines doing the rounds this morning in the post-mortem of what this means for David Cameron’s leadership is that it shows yet again that backbenchers do not trust the Prime Minister. This is true, but it is worth being as specific as possible.
This rebellion was not like the other revolts over Europe and House of Lords reform, where it was as much about sticking two fingers to the leadership for not listening to MPs as it was about the issues at stake, serious though they are. The number of conversations I’ve held with backbenchers in the run-up to and aftermath of those votes made it quite clear that if they didn’t hate Cameron so much, they might have calmed down. But this rebellion stuck more closely to principle than politics. And yet the MPs still struggled to trust David Cameron. They couldn’t trust his convictions, one MP explained to me last night. They were not sure whether his judgement was right. That is a bigger problem than being hated. You can blame Cameron himself for that, but his accusation that Iraq poisoned the well for liberal interventionism certainly rings true as well.
There is also the question of why this doesn’t – yet – seem to have been a fatal blow for the Prime Minister’s leadership (it’s worth saying ‘yet’ as even though I suspect he is scarred rather than taken off the field by this, the Tory party has a curious way of operating at the best of times). I spoke to a number of Cameron’s fiercest enemies on the backbenches. Significantly, many of those fierce enemies either abstained or supported the government, rather than joining the rather interesting list of rebels. They explained the problems with the leadership and the whipping operation that I outlined in my blog last night. But they also didn’t think this was a serious leadership issue. Why not? ‘Well, there’s no contender, is there,’ said one.
Small comfort. But as the Prime Minister licks his wounds in Downing Street today, he should reflect on the fact that MPs last night weren’t out to kick him but they also weren’t out to put their faith in him. And that is serious.Tags: Backbenchers, David Cameron, intervention, Rebellion, Syria