That over 100 Conservative MPs voted for John Baron's amendment yesterday evening suggests that they agreed with it - that's common sense, after all, isn't it? But matters are rarely that simple in the House of Commons.
A picture is beginning to emerge of Tory MPs who disagreed with the motion but still backed it. Why? Because they didn't want to explain to their Associations and constituents that in their view David Cameron's new EU referendum bill pledge rendered the amendment unnecessary.
James Kirkup writes this morning about the power of local Associations and the shrinking of the Conservative member base. He is correct (as usual). But fear of local voters counted as much yesterday evening as fear of local activists - at least for MPs in marginal seats,
Some of them are furious with Baron for pushing his amendment to the vote, and claim to have told him so. It can be argued that this reflects badly on them, rather than Baron - that if they disagreed with his amendment, they shouldn't have voted for it.
This week's '22 Committee elections also suggest that while their votes were with Baron, their hearts were elsewhere. Robert Buckland is an outspoken supporter of Britain's E.U membership - and thus a rarity among the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs.
At roughly the same time as yesterday evening's vote, it was announced that he has been re-elected as a secretary of the 1922 Committee's executive committee. In public, Tory MPs may be backing the rebels, but in private they are supporting the loyalists.
By Harry Phibbs
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The BBC's Norman Smith tweets that 70 MPs have so far signed the amendment to the Queen's Speech from John Baron MP which "but respectfully regret that an EU referendum bill was not included in the Gracious Speech."
Mr Smith adds that the DUP MPs have decided to support it.
The following signaturies currently appear on tthe Order Paper which I make 52:
By Paul Goodman
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"Well, gentlemen, I see we have a good gathering tonight," said side-burned Forth, like a teddy boy relishing a dust-up with some mods at the local disco. "I think we ought to have a discussion of what this group believes in. I must say I always thought we believed in lower taxes, locking up more criminals and standing up for Britain. But now I am told we stand for something called REACHING OUT! He shrieked the words with melodramatic disgust."
This morning's account in the Times (£) of a "dinner table plot to unseat the coalition" turns out to be the second subtantial leak from the No Turning Back Group - the right-of-party-centre backbench dining club of Conservative MPs of which I was once a member. The first is chronicled in loving detail in Simon Walters's romp, Tory Wars, and I quote from the words of the late, great Eric Forth - whose attack on Michael Portillo opens the account. (It followed Portillo's speech to the Conservative Conference in 2000.)
Over ten years on, how fortunate we are that these contentious issues have been put to rest!
A word on the Times's story and the NTB itself. The Times refers to some MPs “chuntering” about a leadership contest. If that's all that took place, what took place wasn't a "plot" - so the headline is a bit out of proportion. The Times mentions the idea of a "mandate referendum" to precede the In-Out one to which David Cameron is committed. There's no great mystery about whose idea that is. It's Davis's. We know that because...he set it out publicly at a ConservativeHome conference last autumn.
Finally, note the names quoted in the Times story: Davis, Redwood, Liam Fox, Bernard Jenkin. Chris Grayling. These names are those of very senior MPs. The report also says: "it is understood that about a dozen MPs were present". If that's right, it sounds like a gathering consisting almost entirely of senior and older MPs. I wonder if the NTB is replenishing its membership. At any rate, no member of the 2010 intake, which now constitutes half the Parliamentary Party, is quoted in the story.
When I was a member of the NTB in the last Parliament, about 20 or so MPs would turn up regularly, including John Baron, Mark Harper, Jonathan Djanogly, Andrew Turner, and Angela Watkinson. Clubs of Tory MPs spring up all the time - for example, the Free Enterprise Group, which gave very public advice to Osborne earlier this week - and the more established ones must renew themselves to stay at the cutting edge. One thing's certain: the NTB will this morning be undertaking a leak enquiry.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament, Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher, tried to introduce a Bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. One of Mr Bacon's lines of argument was that the legal requirement for Ministers to amend legislation - without a vote in Parliament - in order to comply with European human rights legislation - is "fundamentally undemocratic":
"Under section 10, a Minister of the Crown may make such amendments to primary legislation as are considered necessary to enable the incompatibility to be removed by the simple expedient of making an order. In effect, because the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations, a supranational court can impose its will against ours. In my view this is fundamentally undemocratic."
Mr Bacon also compellingly argued that the controversial social issues that judges often like to get involved in should be decided by "elected representatives and not by unelected judges":
"[T]here is no point in belonging to a club if one is not prepared to obey its rules. The solution is therefore not to defy judgments of the Court, but rather to remove the power of the Court over us. ... Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us which enables them to discern what our people need better than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives. There is no set of values that are so universally agreed that we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific. Questions of major social policy, whether on abortion, capital punishment, the right to bear firearms or workers rights, should ultimately be decided by elected representatives and not by unelected judges."
By Peter Hoskin
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Protests seldom occur in step to a marching beat — but that was exactly what happened when veterans of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers paraded down Whitehall today. There is video footage here; the photo above is taken from Manchester Evening News website.
They were there not just to protest against the government’s decision to disband their Regiment in 2014, but also to witness the latest, most significant, stage in a political process led by the Tory MP John Baron. He — along with the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, Jonathan Reynolds, and former Dennis Laverick — presented a petition of 8,000 signatures to Downing Street. And it was Mr Baron who was behind a parliamentary motion urging the government to reconsider this particular cut. That motion was passed by 57 votes to three, although it is non-binding.
The campaign to save the 2RRF is amongst the most high profile of its sort, not least because it has the backing of the Manchester Evening News. Yet despite that, and despite the political pressure that today’s motion represents, there’s little sign of the MoD shifting its position on this, or for any of the 16 other Army units picked out for disbandment over the next few years. In fact, it was an Army spokesman who today responded to Mr Baron’s suggestion that a “poorly recruited Scottish battalion” might have been chosen instead. “To suggest decisions were taken on recruitment performance alone,” that spokesman said, “is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Army's process.”
Still, it’s a preview of what the Government might face, with increasing ferocity, as the cuts come closer. And it ought to remind them that, if they are to build an Army that’s more reliant on reservists, then much more needs to be done to encourage people to sign up.
By Matthew Barrett
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Philip Hammond's statement to the House this afternoon announcing cuts to the Army was bound to be a challenging time for the Secretary of State for Defence. The announcement signals the beginning of a long transformation for the Army, and jobs will undoubtedly be lost as a result of the changes. Mr Hammond told the House that the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire regiment, 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh would all be "withdrawn" or disbanded. The Secretary of State said:
"These withdrawals and mergers, unwelcome as I know they will be in the units affected, are fair and balanced, and have been carefully structure to minimise the impact of the regular manpower reduction and optimise the military effectiveness of the Army."
By Matthew Barrett
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Between Liam Fox's speech this morning, and David Cameron's statement to the House about his European Council meeting (at 3.30pm), a number of backbench Tories have voiced their mixed feelings about the Prime Minister's referendum intervention.
"A lot of people think that the current government should renegotiate its relationship with Brussels so that we just have an economic relationship and then put that to the British people. Either we accept the terms or we leave and I think that’s what many Conservatives think should be done and what we would like the Prime Minister to say very clearly."
Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), appearing on the BBC's Daily Politics, set out his desire for an "unambiguous commitment" from the Prime Minister for a referendum:
"It’s time we trusted the people, because frankly, people don’t trust senior politicians, mandarins, or Europe any longer. David Cameron has to be clear, unambiguous and specific with a timeframe for what that renegotiation will be. ... What I, and many colleagues want is an unambiguous commitment, a route map to real renegotiation at this historic juncture with the EU and definitely a referendum to let the people decide."
By Matthew Barrett
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Appearing on the BBC News channel this morning, John Baron MP - who authored the letter urging David Cameron to place a commitment to hold an EU referendum on the Statute Book before the next general election - expressed his mixed feelings about this morning's article in the Sunday Telegraph from Cameron:
"I sent a personal letter to the Prime Minister signed by 100 colleagues, and I look forward to getting that response in time. But what I am slightly saddened about, whilst pleased the Prime Minister is now talking about a referendum, he hasn’t actually promised one and in justification for that he’s suggesting that our position in the letter, is that we want an in out referendum now, which is not the case."
Mr Baron explained the aims of the letter:
"What the letter clearly says is that we want him to put on the state book in this Parliament, a promise, a commitment to a referendum in the next Parliament. This would give us time to have an informed debate as to what the question should be, but would also allow the eurozone crisis to play out. But it would address the credibility gap that does exist when the public hear politicians promising or even talking about referendums."
By Paul Goodman
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8.45pm Update by Matthew Barrett: I have now learned which candidates are being backed by the traditional organisations on the right of the Conservative Party, such as the No Turning Back group. I have highlighted these in purple.
The following have been returned unopposed:-
Posts for which elections will take place (I have marked those previously identified by Tim as members of the 301 slate in blue):
1) Secretary - the following nominations have been received for TWO posts:
NICK DE BOIS
2) Executive members - the following nominations have been received for TWELVE posts.
PRITI PATEL - Priti Patel is being backed by both the 301 group, and the right of the Party.
Finally and separately, the following nominations have been received for Conservative members of the Backbench Business Committee - four posts:
By Matthew Barrett
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Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of the University of Nottingham have released a new pamplet - "The Bumper Book of Coalition Rebellions", which documents the 239 backbench rebellions so far in this Parliament, in which 544 votes have been held.
The pamplet takes us from the first rebellion, on the government’s control of time in the Commons, to the last, on Sunday Trading during the Olympics. This Parliament has seen more rebellions by government MPs than in any other session in the post-war era. As "The Bumper Book" says, "It comfortably beats the previous record of 128, held by Conservative MPs in the 1971-72 session. Indeed, a figure of 239 is higher than all but three entire post-war parliaments."
In fact, there were more rebellions in the last two years than there were between 1945 and 1966 - a period which saw six Prime Ministers and six parliaments. On a different measure, the "relative rate of rebellion", this session's 239 rebellions constitute a rebellion by Coalition MPs in 44% of divisions, which is a record in post-war parliaments. The 44% figure can be broken down further: Conservative MPs have rebelled in 28% of votes, while Lib Dems have rebelled in 24% of votes.
It is also notable how much of a contrast there is between the 2010-12 session and most first sessions in a parliament. As the pamplet says: "The rebellion rate for coalition MPs collectively is way above all other first sessions in the post-war era (the previous record was 28%, for Labour MPs in the 2005-6 session, as the party entered its third, and most troublesome, parliament under Tony Blair)".
By Matthew Barrett
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In my series profiling groups of Tory MPs, most groups I've looked at have been mostly or wholly composed of 2010 intake MPs. The next group is bit different, as it was founded more than 25 years ago. The No Turning Back group has a proud history of celebrating and promoting Thatcherism. How is the group doing now? In this profile, I'll be examining what No Turning Back, the backbench group for Thatcherites in Parliament, is doing now.
Origins of the group
No Turning Back was founded in 1985 to defend Mrs Thatcher's free-market policies. The 25 founding members included, amongst others, now-Deputy Chairman Michael Fallon, now-Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, and the late, great Eric Forth.
The name of the group comes from Mrs Thatcher's famous conference speech given in October 1980:
"To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning.” I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends."
There are about 100 members of the group, which is chaired by John Redwood, including "quite a lot" from the 2010 intake. Members include such big beasts as John Redwood, David Davis, Bernard Jenkin, Peter Lilley, Lord Forsyth, and Liam Fox. Current Conservative officeholders who are members of the group include the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith; David Cameron's PPS, Desmond Swayne; Nick Clegg's Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mark Harper; the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers; a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Jonathan Djanogly; three government whips, Angela Watkinson, Mark Francois and Greg Hands; the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Greg Knight; and the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, John Whittingdale, who was Mrs Thatcher's Political Secretary in the late 1980s.
Yesterday in a five hour debate MPs discussed the law on assisted suicide. Extracts from some of the contributions from Conservative MPs are pasted below.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: "We have to legislate for the weak and vulnerable, and for those who have nobody to defend them. Yes, of course we can all cite examples of intelligent, capable people who would be able, for example, to resist pressure from family members who might be after an inheritance, but what about those who feel that they have become a burden to society? My greatest concern for the elderly and the frail is that, although they might be enjoying their lives, they might feel that they have become a burden and therefore selflessly propose that their own end should be hastened. That is my concern about the term “voluntary”."
John Baron: "For the avoidance of doubt, let me absolutely clear: I believe that the compassionate approach for patients who are in severe pain, are terminally ill and have the support of their family would be to allow them to choose to die provided that the appropriate safeguards are in place. Yes, there is a right to life, and that is terribly important, but there is also a right to choose to die with dignity, knowing that one’s relatives will not be prosecuted, and surrounded by family and loved ones—not alone for fear of the prosecution of those left behind. That is why I will support amendment (a). This area is far too important and the situation is far too unique to be left to Government officials. It should be subject to parliamentary oversight. Yes, we know that the guidelines are just that and are not law, but prosecution or the threat of it can be profoundly disturbing to the loved ones left behind. We should not underestimate that. We do not know for sure whether those left behind will have committed a criminal act, but the threat of prosecution or prosecution itself can be profoundly disturbing, particularly for those who have already had to endure severe grief in their lives. Putting guidance on the statute book brings that certainty. It brings certainty that those who maliciously assist someone to die will be prosecuted and also provides protection to those acting on compassionate grounds. I believe that those factors should be taken into account and that we need to end that uncertainty."
Eleanor Laing: "Many hon. Members have spoken about choice and palliative care, but palliative care does not work for everyone. If it did, we would not have a problem and we would not be having this debate. Some people who are in the final stages of life have intolerable and untreatable suffering and pain. They have no choice, and they deserve our compassion. Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) about the right to life being paramount, we cannot ignore quality of life at its end."
By Matthew Barrett
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The Government's decision to change the rules of the Backbench Business Committee - the substance of which I wrote about yesterday morning - was debated and voted upon in the House yesterday. John Redwood has written on his blog about the debate:
"Yesterday the government rushed proposals through to change the way the Committee is elected in future, against the wishes of the current Committee. It was a sad and strange decision. Everyone speaking claimed the current Committee has done a good job. They were all elected by the whole House. They have not operated in a party political way. Now the government wants them to be elected by party, with Conservatives voting for Conservative members and Labour voting for Labour members. Backbenchers fear the front bench aim is to exert more influence over who gets these jobs."
This perfectly sums up the spirit of contributions from Conservative backbenchers, the highlights of which I have selected below.
"The Government’s actions fly in the face of the House of Commons Reform Committee report, “Rebuilding the House”, which proposed what are known throughout the House as the Wright reforms. Those reforms were designed to restore trust in Parliament and to reduce the power of the Executive. They were the very reforms that the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House supported so vigorously when they were in opposition. I am sad to say that it has taken less than two years for the Government to do a U-turn and go back to the bad old days of the Executive trying to tell Parliament what to do. There have been several signs over the past few months that the Government are adopting the policy of always knowing right and of assuming that Parliament is there only to rubber-stamp their decisions. This motion is the clearest and most obvious breach of their commitment to put Parliament first."
By Paul Goodman
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Last year, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels amidst rumour of a leadership challenge if he didn't achieve at least a token repatriation of power.
Today, he faced the Commons not only with no such repatriation realised but with his veto - so rapturously greeted at the time by Conservative MPs - arguably valueless, since it's now clear that he won't challenge the principle of the EU institutions being used to enforce the F.U agreement.
Yet there was no mass revolt from his backbenches, and no revival to date of the leadership challenge rumours. What explains this change in the Tory atmosphere? I hope to explore the question in detail soon, but will for the moment rest with an answer I've cited before.
"It’s a historic sort-of shift for Britain; it does mean that we can think more freely about where we want to be in the long-term. I think the great majority of British people don’t want to be part of political union. We want free trade and co-operation, but we don’t want to be tied into a straitjacket, and that is something that we need to address in the coming years, and I’ve no doubt David Cameron will understand that and will take that forward. He’s proved, as Prime Minister, that he’s prepared to put Britain first, and that’s what he’s done ... We never had a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, so there are issues that need to be addressed, but at least we have a Prime Minister that understands what matters to Britain, and is prepared to stand up for our country, put Britain first, and show the bulldog spirit, and that’s what David Cameron did this week."
"I think that the immediate reaction is the Prime Minister secured the objectives, the two objectives that he had. One was to give encouragement to the eurozone members to sort out their problems, because he recognises the immense damage that collapse of the euro could have in this country, and the second, more complicated objective, but very important, is to protect the interests of the City of London, so he wasn’t prepared to give away any sort of negotiating position or any degree of national control in the middle of the night on Thursday."
2pm Mark Reckless MP told Sky News about his expectation of support for the Prime Minister amongst MPs:
"I think when the Prime Minister makes his statement on Monday he is going to be exceptionally well received on the Conservative benches. He kept his word. He said that if we didn't get protection for the City he would veto the treaty. He didn't get that protection so he vetoed the treaty. I think many of my colleagues will see this as an opportunity to develop a new relationship with Europe whereas a country we become independent once again, trading with Europe but governing ourselves and making our own arrangements with Europe - like the Swiss do - while the EU-26 go ahead with fiscal union with the union."
"I am a Conservative, and it is my job to urge the Coalition Government to reflect more fully the very strong Conservative opinion on this issue where I think we are in touch with the mood of the country, where the polls show that about four out of five people agree with us that we want less Europe. They don't agree with the Liberal Democrats. ... The UK isn't afraid of Germany, and we are happy to look Germany in the eye and say we don't agree on this and we want to do something different. A lot of the smaller countries near Germany are scared and they have to go along with a German Europe."
"We are going to see the detail of what [the 17] are proposing, but I don't see this as being necessarily negative. They already have the Euro, which is something that the 17 of them agreed on that has not harmed us. They have had other things that haven't harmed us either. I don't see this as one of those seminal moments in history that we are suddenly seen to be isolated in some way. We are still an economic power and buy more from Europe than we export to it."
"The eurozone want to move ahead now and pool their sovereignty and have decisions over tax and spending taken centrally by Brussels and so on. We don't want to be part of that. We want them to get on with it, to sort out the eurozone crisis, because it has been spreading across and slowing down economies right across Europe. We wish them well in that but we certainly don't want our tax and spending decisions taken in Brussels. We are going to protect that."
George Eustice MP in the FT (£):
"The truth is that today, Europe unites rather than divides Tories and they will all support the stance Mr Cameron adopted at this summit. They will judge him favourably because of how hard he has tried rather than what was achieved. There is a pragmatism within the new parliamentary party but underlying that patience is a steely resolve to see a new relationship between Britain and the EU: one in which, as Mr Cameron said in his Mansion House speech, powers ebb back to Britain rather than flow away."
John Redwood MP on his blog:
"The numbers of Conservative rebels will doubtless wax and wane, but there is now a hard core of at least 45 who are likely to vote against unsuitable EU measures, meaning the Coalition needs some Labour support or help should they want to put through more EU decisions."
Robert Halfon MP on his blog:
"Britain's veto was of huge importance. It is the first shift away from the ratchet effect of European integration for many years. It shows that the UK will no longer accept the unacceptable transfer of powers away from our nation state. It also opens up a real possibility of a fundamental renegotiation of our relationship with the EU: as part of a co-operative free-trading bloc within a European Economic Community - rather than being an inexorable part of a federal superstate."
5.45pm Mark Reckless MP has recorded a video-blog, in which he says:
"Our Prime Minister has shown that he is a man of his word... David Cameron said that unless he got a protocol to protect the City from European regulation that he would veto the European treaty. He didn't get that protocol...and he vetoed the treaty as he promised he would, and I just think restoring faith in politics is so important, and I think the Prime Minister has helped do that."
5.45pm The Daily Express reports on Boris' praise for the PM:
"The Mayor of London said: "David Cameron has done the only thing that it was really open to him to do. He has played a blinder.""
"I welcome the Prime Minister's stand. He is to be given credit. However it is now clear that the United Kingdom's relationship with the EU will significantly change given the emergence of a new inner EU-bloc, a dominant bloc. This new bloc is a major power shift, and establishes a new paradigm in the way the Eurozone and the wider EU will do future business. The UK has the full legal rights of all the other EU members. If these rights are abused then the UK should use its considerable budget contribution to the EU as leverage in its interests. The unintended consequence of these negotiations is that it seems more, not less likely that there will be an EU referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU within this Parliament, which is something our Coalition partners have also agreed upon in their last election manifesto. Today is a good day for British sovereignty"
4.30pm VIDEO Cameron has created path to "full renegotiation" of UK's EU relationship, claims Bill Cash MP
3pm Douglas Carswell told PoliticsHome:
"The events in Brussels show that we have changed direction. We have got a long way to go, but I think people will be supportive of David Cameron for doing the right thing. What we need to do is make absolutely clear that there is no scope for changing the small print of the deal. ... The idea of a new architecture of the EU that we are not part of is incredibly, incredibly exciting, and has the possibility of giving us a better relationship with the EU. We must make sure that we actually deliver the change."
2.30pm Lord Tebbit has just blogged for the Telegraph:
"At last! When all other options had been exhausted, David Cameron has done the right thing. By refusing to sign up to changes in the Treaty of Rome (which is now, after amendments, really the Treaty of Lisbon) the Prime Minister has adopted the policy which, in a conversation with Giscard d'Estaing, I described as “getting the British dog out of the European federal manger”. ... Whether Cameron's decision was made out of conviction and understanding of these great issues, out of fear that his party would split with a majority led by dissident Cabinet colleagues against him, or out of fear that demands for a referendum would become irresistible, we cannot know. We should just be grateful that he made it."