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 Eurosceptic debate had been trailed as a momentous challenge for the Prime Minister – and certainly he had taken it on himself to make it that. 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. No one got bitten. One of the parliamentary private secretaries is said to have fainted but he didn't have the decency to do it in the chamber.
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? And why doesn't Labour use the occasion to lever the Coalition apart? And why won't the Liberal Democrats use it to promote their in/out idea? One possibility is that everyone was behaving so well they were unrecognisable.
At any rate Cameron 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 quite used to – made a mistake by applying full rigour to the wording of the motion and mocking its amateurism: "We'll have to have a referendum to vote on the voting system for the referendum." No one liked that.
A leader for the movement had yet to emerge at the time of writing. But one or more surely will. It's the youngest, most sceptic and least whippable Conservative Party ever – and judging from Adam Holloway's resignation speech both pleasant and polite. And when he said, "I'm not prepared to go back on my word to my constituents," he got the first sign of life.
And Charles Walker got the second with his three-second speech. He was called. He said, "If not now, when?" He sat down. Cheers all round.Reuse content