The Corner

Self-Inflicted Wounds, the Cameron Way

To be arrogant is one thing, to be a loser is another, and it’s generally best not to be both at the same time. British prime minister David Cameron’s latest own goal has been to insist (quite unnecessarily) that Conservative MPs must vote against a largely symbolic proposal to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU (in/out/renegotiation) at some point in the future. In so doing, he further alienated the Tory rank-and-file, made clear to the British people what he thought about them, associated himself once again with the EU’s increasingly desperate elite, and infuriated a large number of Conservative MPs.

So how did the vote turn out?

You can take your pick of what a jeering Fleet Street has had to say, but this report from the Daily Telegraph will do as well as any:

More than 80 Conservative MPs defied his orders and backed a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The morning after the vote, Michael Gove hit the airwaves to deny the rebellion would lead to a “convulsion” in the Tory party or that it was a “humiliation” for the Prime Minister. He insisted the government and MPs were “united” behind a goal to get back powers from Europe.

In Monday’s vote a total of 81 of Mr Cameron’s MPs voted for a Commons motion calling for a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU, even the PM had ordered his party to oppose it. It included two tellers indicated they supported the motion. Another two Tories voted yes and no, the traditional way of registering an abstention. A further 12 did not vote. In all, about half of all Conservatives outside the “payroll vote” of ministers and their aides scorned Mr Cameron’s authority, with most of them coming from the 2010 intake of MPs. Rebel leaders warned that the Prime Minister faced a protracted “war” with his own party over the European issue. The call for a referendum was defeated only because Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs also opposed it. The motion was rejected by 483 votes to 111 in the late-night Commons vote. At least two junior members of the Government backed the referendum motion and resigned. They included Adam Holloway, an aide to David Lidington, the Europe Minister, who accused ministers of mistreating loyal Conservatives.

Previously, the biggest Conservative rebellion over Europe came in 1993 when 41 Tory MPs defied John Major over the Maastricht treaty. The revolt was also easily the biggest that Mr Cameron’s government has suffered on any issue. Many Conservative MPs are unhappy about aspects of Mr Cameron’s Coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, and the new mood of defiance raises the prospect of more challenges to the Prime Minister’s authority in future.

And Cameron is the man who some once said should be a model for the GOP? Amazing.