Cameron suffers first major Commons defeat on EU budget vote

Tory rebels and Labour vote by 307 to 294 to support a real-terms cut in the EU budget.

It turns out that the government wasn't bluffing when it briefed that it would lose tonight's EU budget vote. David Cameron has just suffered his first major Commons defeat after Conservative rebels and Labour combined to vote in favour of a backbench Tory amendment (tabled by the aptly-named Mark Reckless) calling for a real-terms cut in the budget. MPs voted by 307 to 294 to support the motion, a majority of 13.

Since the vote was non-binding, the government's negotiating position remains unchanged - Cameron will go to Brussels on 22 November vowing to veto any above-inflation increase in the budget (the rebels, as I said, want him to go further and veto anything other than a real-terms cut). But the result is further evidence of just how divided the Tories now are on Europe. Fifty one of the party's MPs (excluding the tellers) voted against the government, making the rebellion larger than any before 2010, including the Maastricht revolts. The new Conservative chief whip, Sir George Young, has failed the first major test of his ability to control the party.

The result is also a significant victory for Ed Balls, who has long argued that Labour should seek to exploit Conservative divisions on Europe by forming tactical alliances with Tory rebels. While the party is vulnerable to the charge of opportunism, tonight's result will embolden those who argue that Labour should do all it can to maximise Cameron's discomfort in this area.

David Cameron gives his final press conference on the second day of an EU summit in Brussels earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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