The government has just suffered an embarrassing defeat on the EU budget. The rebel amendment, which called for a cut rather than the real terms freeze David Cameron is proposing, passed by 307 votes to 294.
There are, I think, three significant consequences of tonight’s vote. First, it has been yet another reminder that David Cameron can barely control his party when it comes to Europe. We’re waiting for the precise number of Tory rebels tonight but it seems like about 50 MPs defied the whips. This means that if Labour is prepared to join with the Tory rebels, it can overturn the coalition’s majority.
This is the second lasting consequence of tonight, it will have strengthened the hand of those in the Labour camp, especially Ed Balls, who argue for more alliances of convenience with Tory Eurosceptics to defeat the Prime Minister. Expect Labour to try and turn the vote on the actual EU budget, if one is agreed, into another—and more significant—defeat for the government.
Finally, tonight is yet another reminder of the limitations of the Tory whipping operation. Up until this evening, the fastest a Tory chief whip had lost a vote in the post-war era after assuming the job was 40 days—John Wakeham became chief whip on the 9th of June, 1983 and the government was defeated in the lobbies on the 19th of July. But Sir George Young has lost a vote less than two weeks after taking on the job.
In the whips’ defence, it should be noted that they were corrected on the level of the rebellion—telling Number 10 this afternoon that the vote would be lost—and that they can only play the hand they’re dealt. But it is hard not to wonder if a more nimble and respected whipping operation would have contained this rebellion more effectively.