From being all over the shop in the past few months when it came to message discipline, the Tories have gone into overdrive in the last two days after the launch of the Let Britain Decide website on James Wharton’s EU referendum bill. It’s now difficult to see the wood for the tweets on how the Tories are the only ones who will #letBritaindecide, and that has got a great deal worse now that Guido has published a leak of Labour’s whipping arrangements for the vote.
— Julian Smith MP (@JulianSmithMP) June 13, 2013
— Peter Bone MP (@PeterBoneMP) June 13, 2013
— Nicky Morgan MP (@NickyMorgan01) June 13, 2013
The party has now confirmed that it will be abstaining on Friday 5 July. A source told Coffee House that it saw no point in forcing its MPs to stay in Westminster for a bill that won’t succeed. The source added that there was no danger of Labour looking weak as the Tories pack the benches of one side of the Commons and face a near-empty Labour side, saying: ‘The political image of the day will be a lot of Tories banging on about Europe.’
James reveals in his column this week that parts of the Labour party are considering the value of making trouble by calling for an instant In/Out vote, which would cause a split between those MPs like John Redwood and Bernard Jenkin, who believe the change is happening now, and therefore the vote should happen now too.
The Tories see the abstention decision as a victory. Grant Shapps rushed out a statement this afternoon saying:
‘Ed Miliband has made clear yet again that he is too weak to give his MPs, let alone the public, a say. We know there are Labour MPs who want that referendum and we would urge them to ignore their weak leader, back our Bill and Let Britain Decide.’
Some commentators think their celebrations are going a little bit overboard, but this is better than the alternative of the party bickering publicly.