It’s great to see such incisive and detailed discussion of the education bill. Take today’s theguardian:
Michael Connarty, MP for Linlithgow and East Fife, said: “I think Ruth Kelly has done a wonderful job with a very, very bad idea, but it’s still a bad idea.”
Yup, that’s pretty much the level of debate in this article (and we’ll skim over the fact that Michael Connarty is an MP for a Scottish constituency not covered by this bill). The whole piece is about trying to predict how many Labour MPs will rebel. Is news so thin on the ground that we can’t just wait and see? Last night’s Panorama was on the same subject, following the rebels and trying to infer whether a big rebellion would speed Tony Blair’s depature. Discussion of the proposals themselves was relegated to a few mentions here and there.
Governments are supposed to lose votes, of course. Blair’s massive majorities in 1997 and 2001 insulated him and the idea of Labour trouncing all opposition on every vote became the status quo. Now that Labour are less dominant in the House of Commons, you would expect Blair to lose the occasional vote. But what’s most tedious about this “will-they-won’t-they” coverage of the rebellion is that the bill is going to pass.
The Tories, Her Majesty’s Opposition, think they have a great wheeze to get rid of Blair sooner – and they long to face to Gordon Frown. We’re being told that a bill passed only because of Tory support would be a disaster for Blair. And yet, with the Tories backing the education bill, Blair is likely to achieve one of the largest majorities for any of his public service reforms. Whether we like the proposals or not, Blair has secured a consensus amongst a significant chunk of Members of Parliament – a sign, surely, of success for a Prime Minister. If the Tories really want to hurry him out of Number 10, actually defeating his flagship education policy would surely be a better way.
From theguardian again:
The prime minister’s working majority is 69, so the rebels need 35 votes against to force a reliance on the Conservatives. One rebel campaigner said this would leave Tony Blair running a “minority administration”.
No, it wouldn’t. Because this is one issue, and on this one issue the Tories are voting in favour. That’s an administration with an even higher majority than it got in May 2005, not a minority administration. It may be a sign that Blair is implementing Tory policies – but to whom is that news after nearly nine years of his premiership? It could equally be a sign that the Tories now back New Labour policies.
Nor does relying on Tory support show that Blair has lost the support of his party. If 50% of his MPs were voting against, then yes. Even if 20% were voting against him. But we’re talking about a rebellion of around 10%. They are the ones who will be appalled if the bill gets through on Tory votes, but we already know most of them want Blair out. The vast majority of Labour MPs will vote in favour.