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The whips are getting stronger – but will it be enough to stop Raab?

30 January 2014

11:38 AM

30 January 2014

11:38 AM

So now that the Speaker has called Dominic Raab’s amendment on deportation, the government whips have a frenzied few hours ahead of them as they try to peel off rebels. But this amendment has 106 signatures (two have joined since yesterday) and the rebels are expecting more to back it too. Labour told Coffee House yesterday that it will not support something that is illegal – but that still leaves room for the party to abstain rather than vote against.

So we now have a situation where the amendment that caused all the fuss over the past few months – the Mills amendment on transitional controls for Bulgarian and Romanian migrants – is diminishing in support, while the Raab amendment, which snuck in at the last minute, is growing in power and causing all the fuss at the last minute. Why is this?

There has been a great deal of bickering in the eurosceptic camp over the past few weeks about the Mills amendment. Some MPs are frustrated that Mills and his colleagues jumped too early: they would have preferred a fight after the European elections. Others are annoyed about the rebel whipping operation, describing it as disorganised and lacking the power to hold on to would-be rebels. There are also a number of MPs who are still furious about the way the Bernard Jenkin letter was handled, feeling it was disorganised and embarrassing. Perhaps there is also a sense among some Tory MPs that even the dreaded ‘europhile’ tag isn’t enough to keep them backing rebellions any more. It’s worth listening to Douglas Carswell explain why he has turned his back on the Mills amendment on our podcast.

Fraser Nelson & Douglas Carswell on rebelling Tories (from 8:38):

But there is also a sense that the whips are getting stronger and more organised. Greg Hands is clearly working hard to seal the deal for his promotion to chief whip when Sir George Young retires, but he is being helped by new whips Gavin Barwell and Amber Rudd. I understand that the whips now run regular ’round table’ discussions with a handful of backbenchers at a time where they invite MPs to suggest strategy ideas and raise problems that they’ve spotted. They also run a daily email which sets out very clearly and succinctly the Commons business for the day, what the whip will be on each vote and whether that may become a stronger whip later, whether the House is likely to rise earlier than planned, and what each vote entails. That last point is important, because MPs often feel as though they are being pushed through the lobbies to vote for things without really knowing what they’re supporting.

This seems to be part of an effort on the part of the whips to treat MPs as though they are grown-ups, rather than lobby fodder, and it does seem to be working. But at the same time, the whips are being tougher and more proactive. As I explained earlier in the week, they were referring wavering backbenchers to the Prime Minister much quicker than whips have in previous rebellions. They’ve also come down like a ton of bricks on MPs who have accidentally missed even reasonably unimportant votes. The message seems to be: we’ll trust you, listen to you, and respect you until you breach our trust, when we’ll get tough. It’s worth noting, though, that the Prime Minister still isn’t fully impressing colleagues with his efforts to draw nearer to his MPs. Most accept he still has a great deal of work to do.

Whether this approach will yield much on this afternoon’s Raab amendment is another matter, though. I suspect not, as Raab as been organised. The Home Secretary is currently opening the debate on the report stage of the Bill in the Commons: there are many more twists and turns to come yet.

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