Even wheeling out the walking wounded was not enough. Gordon Brown was forced to resort to blatant bribes and an alleged deal with the nine Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members to save his skin in the biggest Commons cliffhanger since the days of John Major's government.
Secret MI5 intelligence briefings for the DUP members on the terror threat facing Britain were said to have been the crucial factor that swung the vote.
After it was announced he had won by nine votes, a relieved Mr Brown embraced the whips behind the Speaker's chair. But the knife-edge vote left Labour rebels angry. Alan Simpson summed up their sentiments with the simple assertion: "We have been DUPed."
The DUP denied a deal but it is understood they were promised a package of sweeteners, including the right of Ulster to keep the revenue from water charges, an estimated £100m in financial support for new roads and other infrastructure projects, and the upgrading of civil service pay.
The Government firmly denied having promised Ulster it could keep £200m raised from the sale of defence sites in Northern Ireland, but Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, denounced it as "Danegeld".
The "spooks" also played a significant role. The DUP was offered a seat on the PM's Security and Intelligence Committee. Lady Hermon, the lone Ulster Unionist Party MP, was also invited to security briefings with MI5.
For Mr Brown, closeted away in his private room behind the Speaker's chair, it was a day of behind-the-scenes arm-twisting and backstairs deals, broken only by telephone calls to Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy.
For the first time in years, three ailing Labour MPs were brought from their sick beds to Westminster to be "nodded through" in the vote. Despite suffering from a serious illness, John McDougall was brought from his Glenrothes seat, as were John Smith, MP for Vale of Glamorgan, and Betty Williams, MP for Conwy. Jim Dobbin, MP for Heywood and Middleton, who has had a knee replacement operation, voted in a wheelchair.
All ministers, including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, were told to cancel trips abroad. Mr Brown ticked off boxes in a left-wing shopping list to secure enough votes. It was, they said, like raiding the "toffee shop".
Several MPs were offered a bizarre inducement by Mr Brown – a commitment to try to lift EU sanctions against Cuba for good.
Yorkshire MPs with mining constituencies were offered £200,000 in compensation for miners with lung disease. A further £100,000 was offered to count arthritis in the knee as an industrial injury.
Mohammed Sarwar, a Muslim MP, was promised compensation on an ex-gratia basis for those held for more than 28 days without charge.
Other MPs enjoying their moment in the spotlight was Robert Spink, who recently left the Tories for the UK Independence Party. He rebuffed the advances of his former colleagues anxious for his help and voted for the Bill.
How the PM bought votes
DUP offered seat on Security and Intelligence committee, plus £100m in financial support.
Party's sole MP invited to MI5 security briefings.
£200,000 in compensation for miners with lung disease. Plus £100,000 offered to count athritis in the knee as an industrial injury.
Commitment to try to get EU to lift sanctions against Cuba for good.
Suspects held for more than 28 days without charge to get payout.Reuse content