The Vote of Confidence: Unspoken threat that hangs over dissidents: The Whips

TORY rebels were under threat of losing the whip when they met in private at their headquarters - 17 Great College Street, within hailing distance of the House of Commons - to discuss tactics for yesterday's confidence vote.

The collapse of their rebellion was signalled at 1pm when Tony Marlow, one of the most die-hard of their number, stood outside their front door and said: 'We are all together. We have a united strategy.'

They had decided at their private meeting to stick together and vote for the Government so that they would not be picked off individually. Teresa Gorman, a leading rebel, told friends that the whips had telephoned her husband to persuade her to vote with the Government, but the threat of a general election was enough.

Richard Ryder, the Chief Whip, and the Cabinet had wrong-footed them by putting the confidence motion down so quickly. 'They thought we would play for time. This is the last thing they expected, and they didn't know what to do,' one Government whip said.

With the Government's overall majority reduced to 18, and likely to fall to 17 after the Christchurch by- election, removing the whip was regarded as an empty threat. It is rarely used and no direct threat was made, but Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, refused to rule out its removal for any Tory MP who defied John Major's call for unity.

The threat of deselection is still hanging over some of the rebels. The whips said at least two of the 23 rebels who could be dropped for the next election. 'The constituencies are free to say that they are selecting for the election and the MP is on the short-list,' said one whip. 'That will make their eyes water.' The rest of the rebels were being comprehensively rubbished by Government sources as being either 'mad, bad or boring'.

Cabinet ministers toured the lobbies putting the best gloss on the crisis. 'If he had delayed, it would have been the beginning of the end, but this has caught the rebels by surprise,' one minister said.

The use of the confidence motion, described as the 'nuclear option' by one former minister, was agreed by the Cabinet at a meeting three hours before the vote on Thursday night.

Other options included allowing Labour to table a censure motion or promising a White Paper by the autumn on the ways out of the Maastricht maze. The Cabinet decided it had to take the initiative by tabling the confidence motion, but there was a dispute about the timing.

Tony Newton, Leader of the House, argued it would be better to delay the confidence motion until Monday to allow the constituency parties to work on the rebels.

But there was a view that that would increase the ill-feeling. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and William Waldegrave, the Cabinet minister responsible for public service and science, wanted to heal wounds with a confidence motion, which could be used as a show of unity. Other big guns in the Cabinet, led by Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, urged John Major to slap down the rebels with the threat to back him or face a general election, which they knew they would lose.

Mr Major could have made Thursday's vote an issue of confidence, but that gamble had been used before and the whips advised him that, even if he won, it would leave the rebels festering. 'This way, the blame has been laid firmly on the rebels. They didn't expect that to happen.'

When the Prime Minister began his speech at the start of the confidence debate, the whips were outside the chamber, continuing their pressure on rebels.

Michael Brown, a junior whip, stood by the massive swing doors to the Commons chamber, and tackled the rebels as they entered. The hard-core rebels were left by the whips 'to stew'. But the rumour ran around the lobbies that any Tory MP who voted against the confidence motion would lose the whip.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen