David Cameron suffered his first serious humiliation of the new Parliament yesterday (Tuesday), when he had to rely on the Labour Party to beat a rebellion by his own Eurosceptic backbenchers.
In a vote on arrangements for the in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, 27 Conservatives opposed their own party’s plan to scrap the traditional period known as “purdah”, when Whitehall is intended to remain neutral in the run-up to a major vote.
Cameron had already conceded ground to the Eurosceptics, in agreeing not to hold the referendum on the same day as an election, and he was expected to have to allow their demand for no pro-EU material to be produced by Whitehall.
But Labour saved his bacon by abstaining.
The SNP, which had joined the Tory Eurosceptics in supporting the amendment, tried to attack Labour for allying with the Tories once again.
Scottish Nationalists have a real problem distinguishing between an alliance between consenting parties and a coincidence of action in which they work toward the same result for different reasons: Labour did not abstain from this vote to help the Conservatives, but to further its own pro-EU cause.
Also, of course, if they’re going to attack Labour for helping Tories by abstaining from a vote, how hypocritical do they look after voting alongside Tories in the same division?
This leads us to another inescapable conclusion: Cameron cannot rely on Labour to save him all the time.
With a wafer-thin majority of only 12 MPs, he’s going to have to fight his own party on every controversial policy.
Perhaps next time, Labour will offer him help in return for a major policy reversal. Perhaps Labour won’t help him.
What’s certain is that Cameron is in deep, deep distress.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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