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.
The joke in Lib Dem circles is that it could be worse — just think back to Jeremy Thorpe. “That’s right,” one said to me. “There are no conspiracy to murder charges to defend. But I’m sure Alistair Carmichael [the deputy chief whip] has come close.”
** Hope this doesn’t blow Gary’s source, but the Karma Sutra line has been used by a Lib Dem before. Here’s an extract from Nick Clegg’s conference speech in 2008: “George Osborne has had more positions that the Kama Sutra.”