I welcome the Conservative decision to have more free votes. Far from creating a split party, this encourages better debate and more thought by individual MPs. The Conservatives offered a free vote on the Raab Amendment to the Immigration Bill and will be offering another on the issue of smoking in cars carrying children.
I see the mythmakers are back saying that a divided party cannot be elected to government. This is complete nonsense. Margaret Thatcher led a very split party. She was constantly subject to attacks from the group of MPs who disagreed strongly with her economic and social policies. Called the wets, they briefed against her, ran rebellions against her in Parliament, and encouraged Michael Heseltine as an alternative leader or challenger. She won three election victories in a row despite this strong internal opposition.
Tony Blair led a very disunited Labour party. A group of left wing Labour MPs were never reconciled to his leadership, regularly rebelled against it and made clear their general displeasure. More importantly, that government was riven with a huge split right at the top. The Brown and Blair factions fought each other over many issues, and regularly briefed the press against each other. This did not stop them winning three elections in a row.
It is true there were splits against John Major from the Eurosceptics, and against Gordon Brown from a range of ambitious people who wanted to bring his leadership to an end, and these 2 leaders did lose heavily in subsequent General Elections. Most sensible commentators should surely recognise that John Major was defeated by the recession and crisis brought on by his decision to enter and stay in the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Gordon Brown was brought down primarily by presiding over the debt , borrowing and banking crisis of 2008.
Spare us the nonsense that independent thought by MPs leads to election loss. I do not expect the polls for the Conservatives to move downwards because Mr Raab dared to move an amendment. The polls under John Major did not move much with acts of rebellion, and when they did it was not always down. They slumped on exit from the ERM and on the economic problems that caused.