Latest news: the vote may not take place if the Liberal Democrats lose their nerve. According to James Chappers, if the vote can’t be called off Tory high command actually views a big defeat as the best outcome because it would make it easier to convince Liberal Democrat HQ to back down on Lords reform. Worst would be a small defeat with months of trench warfare as the self-styled Sensibles’ crack team of guerilla filibusterers work the House at all hours while ministers try to pick off rebels. This echoes reports of even the PM being lenient on rebels.
Philip Cowley has an indispensible guide to how to gauge the strength of the rebellion compared to past ones, and is well worth the read. A similar guide is available from the Spectator. On that subject, both sides are careful not to pre-judge it: one rebel this morning thought it was too close to call and a senior loyalist MP thinks they will lose right now.
EDIT: Programme motion withdrawn; the bill will remain ‘uncommitted’ – in limbo, neither waiting for committee stage nor dead – until at least Autumn. In theory, the government can negotiate with the ‘Sensibles’ over the next few months, but a lot depends on the position and divisions of the Labour party. We will soon see how many rebels will stick their head above the parapet on Second Reading.
As to what happens next, James Landale has a veritable spotter’s guide to the delaying tactics and weapons in the parliamentary arsenal that the Sensibles intend to use; no doubt to good effect.
UPDATE at 22:52: Second reading passed by 462 to 124 – an absolutely massive 91 Tories rebelled (second only to Major’s 95 in 1997 for post-war Tory rebels and fourth to Labour’s 139 and 121 in 2003 for post-war rebellions in general). He’s only got 300-odd Tory MPs, and we don’t know abstentions yet…
UPDATE at 23:50: Jesse Norman, one of the ringleaders of the Sensibles, has had a torrid time:
Tory rebel leader Jesse Norman chased out of parl by whips and ‘yelled at in front of many colleagues’ by PM – rebel source
— Nicholas Watt (@nicholaswatt) July 10, 2012
Like many, I can’t see that this will do anything but exacerbate the divisions in the Conservative party. Foolish, foolish decision by David Cameron.