Simon Carr: A disaster for Cameron completely of his own making


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The Independent Online

It didn't amount to a rebellion, as such – not a sharp delivery of pain to the leadership, leaving it reeling and clutching its face. No, the Tory sceptics sat there like a layer of plaque. That's not what had been expected.

The Referendum debate had been trailed as a momentous challenge for the Prime Minister – and certainly he had taken it on himself to make it so.

But, in the event, it was remarkable for its lack of foam. Where was the spittle? We'd been promised barking. At the very least, that the proposer, David Nuttall, would live up to his name. There was a total lack of yodelling.

Why Cameron dignified the Motion with his attention is a mystery to all.

Why wouldn't a vote for a referendum strengthen his hand in the negotiations he is promising? Ah, Christopher Chope later wondered.

Maybe they aren't serious in their threats and promises.

Maybe the "not now" argument is just to get the Government over this backbench bump.

Cameron had made a number of pacifying arguments in his earlier statement. He felt their frustration. There would be a referendum if powers passed. A renegotiation was coming up and therein lay the sceptics' opportunity. And, most daringly, that all parliamentary decisions were serious and significant and this backbench motion was no less important than a Government Bill. This flattered or mollified them, or at least rendered them plaque-like. William Hague bent by the realities of government into a shape we're not used to – he made a mistake by applying rigour to the wording of the Motion and mocking its amateurism: "We'll have to have a referendum to vote on the voting systen for the referendum." No one liked that.

No Fox in the chamber; no David Davis. Maybe a new generation leader will emerge when the leadership fails to deliver this "renegotiation" around Christmas time.

It's the youngest, most sceptic and least-whippable Conservative party ever – and judging from Adam Holloway's resignation speech, pleasantly polite. When Aidan Burley made his odiously loyal speech threatening recession from a Yes vote – it was the old stager, James Gray, murmuring "Drivel!"

Charles Walker got the award for the best effort with his three-second contribution. He was called. He said: "If not now, when?" He sat down. Cheers all round.