I’m told by Commons’ sources that the six Tory rebels over tuition fees were Andrew Percy, David Davis, Philip Davies, Mark Reckless, Jason McCartney and Julian Lewis. Abstentions came from Tracey Crouch and Lee Scott.
For David Cameron that is a a reasonable show of unity, given that those eight amount to just 2.6 per cent of the 307 Tory MPs. He had tried unsuccessfully to get all of them to abstain.
A pearl from Gary Gibbon’s blog:
Deputy Leader Simon Hughes is coming in for particular stick from colleagues. “He’s had more positions than the Kama Sutra on this”, one fellow Lib Dem MP said. “He’s not rubber, he’s putty.”**
Very well put. It’s a reminder that most of the refusniks on the Lib Dem side are far from untainted. They may be sticking to their election campaign pledge, but they are breaking their word to abide by the coalition agreement. As one of the “rebels” told me, “we should have done more earlier, we have blood on our hands too”.
Remember that no MP voted against the coalition agreement and only Charlie Kennedy abstained. The Lib Dem special conference, which included some 2,000 delegates, was almost North Korean in its support. No delegate stood up and questioned whether an abstention was enough to protect Lib Dem honour on tuition fees. And no more than a dozen activists actually voted against the full deal.
These arguments aren’t really washing with the rebel MPs though. The mood on the Lib Dem backbenches is to vote no rather than abstain. As Gibbon notes, they can all do the maths and see that the proposals will almost certainly go through. And who would want to explain to voters the reasons for them sitting on the fence?
One additional problem for Clegg is that the whips have lost some of their best arguments. With all the ministers backing Clegg, they can’t even dangle the prospect of a promotion in front of backbenchers who stay loyal.