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Reshuffling the whips won’t solve Cameron’s rebel problem

25 August 2012

2:22 PM

25 August 2012

2:22 PM

One of the biggest problems that David Cameron faces at the moment is discipline within his own party. He was astonished by the size of the rebellion on the second reading of the House of Lords Reform Bill, which he had expected to be much smaller.

He is now considering what to do with the many talented Conservative rebels as he approaches the September reshuffle: does he promote some more of those who revolted over Europe, but leave the Lords rebels languishing in career Coventry for a little longer?

The Guardian carries a story by Nick Watt which suggests Cameron isn’t just going to tackle bad behaviour by keeping rebellious spirits on side, though. He’s also being urged to give the whips’ office a good clean-out, replacing many of its current members with talented newcomers and well-respected senior figures. Watt’s piece says:

It is understood that Cameron now agrees that the whips’ office will have a greater chance of asserting authority over troublesome MPs, particularly the 2010 intake, if it combines two sorts of MPs: respected older figures and newcomers destined for the cabinet.

Matt Hancock and Nick Boles are two newcomers that the Guardian understands would do an impressive job of encouraging loyalty. But the Prime Minister needs to consider how his own behaviour can affect rebels, too. He gave the Lords rebellion space to grow by initially suggesting any MP who walked through the ‘no’ lobby would not damage their future career prospects. His consistently inconsistent messaging on the consequences of voting down the programme motion fuelled rebel leader Jesse Norman to encourage colleagues to vote against the second reading, too. When the next crunch vote approaches, the Prime Minister will still struggle to keep his backbenchers in check if his own messaging goes awry again.

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