There are arguments in both directions about whether David Cameron should have imposed a three line whip on Monday’s vote on an In/Out referendum on Europe. My view is that it was unnecessary once the Lib Dems and Labour said they would vote against but that is not the main issue here.
What strikes me is the inevitability of it. The Government e-Petition site is a great way of opening up democracy but it would naturally gravitate towards the issues that people feel parliament is ignoring. Europe, immigration and the death penalty are all issues which people tell me they feel strongly about but which no political party is willing to discuss. What politicians see as settled consensus many voters see as a closed shop stitch up, as one friend of mine said ahead of the last council election “who do I vote for if I want speed humps removed?”
The second thing which was always going to cause difficulties was the reduction in the numbers of constituencies. In a year or so’s time many Conservative MPs will need to compete for selections to redrawn constituencies, when they do it will be seen as a huge disadvantage for them to say “I have called for changes to our relationship with Europe but the didn’t vote for a referendum on the issue”.
Both the e-Petitions and the reduction in constituencies are good ideas but they come with entirely foreseeable consequences. The party leadership and parliamentary management team could have seen these coming and should have mitigated against them much earlier.