Surprise timing helps IMF funding passes Commons
Did some smart tactics and fancy footwork save the Government's bacon last night? The Commons vote on the extra funding for the International Monetary Fund, Britain's contribution to international bailouts yet to come, produced a major Tory rebellion with 31 backbenchers defying a three line whip and voting against - with Labour.
I blogged last week about the apparent change in the Labour line - to oppose British funding for further bailouts, on the basis that the taxpayer's exposure to possible defaults by stricken countries might now be becoming dangerous. Labour opposed the Statutory Instrument authorising the extra funding in committee last week and voted against last night, when the Commons was invited to approve it without debate. The result? A Government majority of just 32 - the lowest of this parliament so far.
The smart tactics I refer to revolve around the timing of the vote; normally an SI is voted on the day after it has been discussed in committee - so the vote might have been expected next Wednesday. Instead, it was added to the Commons agenda on Monday morning, and the vote was held at 10.10pm last night. At that point none of the opposing forces, Labour, eurosceptic backbench Tories and the Ulster DUP were there in full strength. Had the vote been taken as a deferred division on Wednesday, which was what they expected, the SI might have been defeated, which would have been a humiliating rebuff for the Government.
That's why, leaving aside issues about why some potential allies were not around on a full legislating day, the unofficial eurosceptic whips take some heart from running the Government so close. They admit to having been caught flatfooted by the timing of the vote and promise to be more alert in the future, Their expectation is that more demands for bailout cash will arrive in due course, and they will be able to defeat them, if Labour sticks to the line it took last night.
Which highlights a wider political point; a more eurosceptic Labour Party would be ideally placed to strain one of the real fault-lines of the Coalition - Europe. A lot of Conservatives are extremely nervous at the thought of being outflanked by Labour on euro-issues, and facing Labour challengers who sweep up eurosceptic votes, come the next election. We're a long way from that point yet, but some Tories are already shivering at the thought.
Meanwhile on a pleasingly sectarian note, last night's rebels are underlining the names of Conservative colleagues who have attempted to cultivate eurosceptic credentials, but who voted according to the Government line when push came to shove. There's a lot of dark muttering about the whips attempting to create a kind of "potemkin eurosceptic" group, which in the end always toes the Government line. This could get pretty interesting.
* The Conservative rebels were: Steven Baker (Wycombe); Brian Binley (Northampton S); Peter Bone (Wellingborough); Douglas Carswell (Clacton); William Cash (Stone); Christopher Chope (Christchurch); James Clappison (Hertsmere); Phillip Davies (Shipley); David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden); Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park); James Gray (Wiltshire N); Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne & Sheppey); Chris Kelly (Dudley S); Edward Leigh (Gainsborough); Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest E); Anne Main (St Albans); Karl McCartney (Lincoln); Nigel Mills (Amber Valley); David Nuttall (Bury N); Matthew Offord (Hendon); Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole); Mark Reckless (Rochester); John Redwood (Wokingham); Simon Reevell (Dewsbury); Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills); Henry Smith (Crawley); Graham Stuart (Beverley & Ho9lderness); Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth & Horncastle); Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight); Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes); Charles Walker (Broxbourne) and John Whittingdale (Maldon). A grand total of 32... but that goes down to 31, when you note that Henry Smith (Crawley) voted on both sides; this is an old parliamentary trick to cancel out a vote and abstain in a pointedly public way.
Four SNP MPs, three Plaidd Cymru MPs and one each from the Alliance and the DUP also voted against the SI.