24 Oct 2011

Westminster vote countdown starts

MPs determined to rebel are now beginning to put out statements saying just that – partly in the hope that it puts a stop to whips making calls on them. I’ve heard about one of the prime minister’s calls to a rebel on Saturday that went on for 15 minutes but went nowhere. When asked by the (now probably perpetual) backbencher why the prime minister decided to whip the vote the PM is supposed to have said that Parliament was an important voice that should mean something when it speaks.

If the PM’s EU Summit statement at 3.30 is combined with an update on Libya, the debate should kick off around 4.30. Expect the prime minister to use his statement and some carefully planted interventions (Rifkind? Lilley?) to say that The Times splash about Germany wanting negotiations for a new treaty to start this December is grist to No 10’s arguments not the rebels’ case. The rebels will take some convincing of that.

When the debate starts, Tory (probably perpetual) backbencher David Nuttall will be followed by a Labour voice and then William Hague, who could be allowed up to 30 minutes if the speaker decides that’s appropriate. No vote until 10pm alas (for me and Channel 4 News).

My money right now after a few chats, is on the number of rebels coming way down from the estimates talked about in some headlines – I’d expect the number to be in the 50s not the 60s. Still very significant – as you can see from those brilliant boffins at Nottingham University here – and what’s also significant is the souring of mood in Tory parliamentary ranks which has its roots in a range of issues of which Europe is only one component.

The PPS’s (parliamentary private secretaries) traipse into No 10 for a “chat” with the PM at 1pm. As things stand, Stewart Jackson is the only PPS who appears to be thinking of rebelling and thereby losing his job. Some others have talked to colleagues about wrestling with their consciences … we’ll see which side wins out in that contest.

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