This week has seen important changes of moods within and between the parties at Westminster. A Labour party asleep when it came to the job of opposition has woken up to campaign against the Cable plan for Higher Educaiton. It has united them for a few days and given them purpose, after weeks of bickering, failing to vote against important government measures,and failing to provide enough speakers in main debates
The Liberal Democrats have decided to air their disagreements in public in a protracted and damaging way, according to them. Today I heard a Lib Dem MP on the Today programme telling us it has been damaging. I then heard that the Deputy Leader has decided not to support Dr Cable’s policy. They are likely to end up split in such a way that they make no difference to the overall vote, as an equal number are likely to vote Yes and to vote No.
Which brings me to the Conservatives. There are quite enough Conservatives to defeat Labour and the smaller parties over tuition fees, assuming a happy and willing team. Last week when I made enquiries I was told that David Davis would vote against, and maybe two others. All seemed quiet and under control from the government’s point of view. There was little discussion of the Higher Education issue amongst Conservatives around the Commons.
The last couple of days have seen a change of mood. MPs including many elected for the first time in 2010 queued up to tell the government its EU Bill does not do what Conservatives want. Many Conservatives are angry about the increase in the EU budget, the expansion of the EU diplomatic service, the surrender of powers in Home affairs, the involvement in the Euro bail outs, the increase in EU City regulation and the forthcoming EU Treaty change on Economic governance. The unfortunate decision to launch an inadequate EU bill two days before the tuition fees vote has led to more backbench doubts about the HE strategy.
Many of the new MPs have also found weaknesses in the new expenses system from both taxpayers’ and MPs’ points of view. The government’s decision to block a backbench bill to seek to resolve the issues about the current scheme, after accepting a Motion requiring change a day earlier, has added to their annoyance.
Conservative MPs did not want to vote for a referendum on the Alternative Vote, a system they dislike. Many did not want a reduction in the number of MPs and the boundary changes that entails so soon after winning their seats for the first time. They did not want to support the increased External Action Service of the EU or the expanded EU budget. They did not like the 5 year Parliament bill, the increase in the EU and Overseas Aid budgets nor some of the defence cuts.
This week is the week when many of the new MPs on the Conservative side have decided they want change in the way they are treated and in the balance of policies put forward by the government. I think they will give the government its HE Bill, but they are also putting down markers about the problems that worry them.
These three developments certainly make Parliament interesting again.