The Tory rebellion leaves Cameron as the new John Major

The PM looks like a weak and defeated leader after last night's vote.

Labour’s plan to embarrass Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems over Lords reform has backfired spectacularly. "Why would we want to hand the Lib Dems a victory?" went the logic of Labour’s decision to two-facedly vote for the Bill but against the programme motion that gave it any chance of seeing the light of day. But what chumps they look now. Nick is left looking like the Miss Haversham of British politics, deserted at the altar of constitutional reform while the groom has a fistfight with his family in the car park. And trust me, everyone always ends up feeling sorry for the jilted bride.

But fear not, Labour MPs. Your war gaming may not have played out just as you expected. But there is a small consolation. You have probably just finished the career of David Cameron, ended any hope of this government doing much else of any worth in the foreseeable, and probably won the next general election to boot.

Cameron looks now like a weak and defeated leader – as the always excellent Jonathan Calder puts it, the new John Major of Conservative politics. Unable to control his backbenchers, he must be gloomily contemplating the hand that fate has dealt him. All over Westminster, Conservative rebels have been drinking the bars dry and celebrating showing the "leadership" – if we can still call it that – who’s boss. "Rebellion is the new cool", I saw tweeted tonight, quoting one Tory backbencher. I’m guessing it wasn’t Peter Bone. But they’ve got a taste for it now, and they know that with enough numbers, they can get the PM to back off. How Cameron must already be regretting his decision not to whip this one properly.

And having got a taste for rebellion, the Tory right will want more, more, more. The snooping bill, EU referendum, a British Bill of Rights. They’ll be clamouring for the lot. But they won’t get it. I doubt there’ll be many Lib Dem MPs willing to hold their noses for Tory policy going forward.

So the rebels won’t get anything they want. And they’ll blame Cameron for that. Ostensibly for not putting us in our place – but really because they’re still furious with him for not winning a majority at the last General Election. And so the rancour and the poison will continue.

And where will it end? Well, we have a Prime Minister, unable to deliver on his coalition promises, under the thumb of rebellious backbenchers, but incapable of satisfying their demands, behind in the polls and all the while becalmed in an austerity driven economy.

Major can probably tell Cameron how this ends ...

David Cameron with John Major in December 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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