There’s no rest for the wicked. Conservative whips have spent a frantic summer urging
Tory opponents of electoral reform to retreat from their opposition. According to Paul Goodman, the whips have been blunt: the
government could collapse if its reform bill is defeated tonight. Their scaremongering seems to have had the desired effect. The Financial Times reports:
‘Members of that group told the FT they were likely to advocate not opposing the government now, but supporting amendments at a later stage on the timing and threshold of the referendum
in future debates.’
The Mail carries a similar report, with David
Davis anointing himself rebel-in-chief and stating that he hopes to ‘get the bill modified to take on board certain things’.
There is a sense that this rebellion’s scale was exaggerated. The rebels look disparate. The usual phalanx from the right was joined by a motley detachment from the party’s more liberal
wing. Some oppose electoral reform on principle and others object to the proposed timing and conduct of a referendum. Point-by-point amendment at the second and third readings will improve a
poorly drafted piece of legislation without gifting
Labour a major but thoroughly dishonourable victory by derailing a policy it supported 3 months ago.
Assuming that Cameron and Clegg have the numbers for this evening’s vote, which they apparently now do, the coalition is safe; Nick Clegg can head for the Lib Dem conference having won the
prize none of his predecessors secured. But the bill’s future progress will be arduous as each pocket of Tory resistance fights for its concession, supported by Labour’s concentrated
opposition. The whips face a busy autumn.