Why have the Tories granted ITV access to film their inevitable defeat in the Brexit vote?

What made the chief whip, Julian Smith, agree to having a camera crew there as his career goes up in smoke?

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

TV have secured a remarkable coup, being granted rare access into the office of the government chief whip, Julian Smith, as he battles to prevent Theresa May going down in a cataclysmic defeat next Tuesday. (Some good news for Smith: he is almost certain to avoid surpassing what I think is the record for a government defeat, the 259 to zero loss suffered by Jim Callaghan's government over child benefit in 1976, so that's something.) 

All power to ITV's elbow, but I must admit I'm mystified as to the thinking on Smith's part: who thinks that the one thing missing as your career and quite possibly your country goes up in smoke for reasons outside your control is a camera crew? (Julian Smith, I guess.) 

It's triggered some public criticism and a great deal of private backbiting as well. It's allowed people to start getting their criticisms of Smith in early, who will be lucky to escape next Tuesday's defeat without a great deal of flack. It's certainly true to say that the Conservative Whips' Office has shown signs of losing its touch lately: to take a non-Brexit example, when Amber Rudd made her despatch box return as Work and Pensions Secretary, she had very little support in the chamber from Conservative backbenchers, to say nothing of how few supportive interventions there have been in the chamber during the debate on the withdrawal agreement. (And that's not the fault of John Bercow: during many debates it's been impossible to see anyone on the Conservative benches who might plausibly offer a soft question to whoever is at the despatch box.) 

But ultimately the government's Brexit problems would still be insurmountable if Julian Smith had invested in some kind of scary pet (a scorpion, perhaps?) or if his experienced opposite number, Nick Brown, were to do some kind of strange work-swap scheme. The problem that remains unchanged is that the will of the House is overwhelmingly against the withdrawal agreement  and that is not going to change.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.