Lord Lawson writes an article – and Conservative MPs take to the studios and airwaves and newspapers. John Redwood. Bernard Jenkin. Jacob Rees Mogg (who this morning becomes the first Tory MP to write in favour of a Conservative-UKIP pact). As far as the EU is concerned, this is scarcely new. In some ways, it is a healthy sign: political parties must be able openly to debate matters of national importance.
It is also an indication of the powerlessness of the Whips' Office – at least when Europe is concerned. More broadly, the rise of the constituency champion backbencher (Sarah Wollaston is the classic illustration, but there are many quieter versions) has also weakened their authority. No wonder three Tory MPs – Dominic Raab, Ben Wallace and Rob Wilson – were reported to have turned down Whips Office jobs in the last shuffle. Why join a declining institution?
Some will rejoice at the weakening of the Whips Office. But Parliament means party (to try to disinvent party is like trying to disinvent the wheel). And party means whips: as Enoch Powell once suggested, Parliament needs whips – just as house needs sewers. David Cameron should have made strengthening the Whips Office. Instead, his reshuffle decisions have actually helped to weaken it.
At the last reshuffle, several whips left for the backbenches – James Duddridge, Bill Wiggin and Shailesh Vara among them. It may be that some of those who did so were happy to leave the Government. But for a Prime Minister not to promote his Whips is bad party management – especially when his powers of patronage are now so weak. He should be using the Whips Office as a powerhouse for talent – and promotion.