By Tim Montgomerie
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On the margins of last night's Lords vote there were a couple of unpleasant incidents and stories are doing the rounds that aren't 100% accurate.
One allegation is that four junior whips confronted Jesse Norman in a very aggressive manner and told him to leave the parliamentary estate. Norman, the 'Captain Sensible' leader of yesterday's rebels, was having a drink with colleagues and was told his presence was provocative and unwelcome. In truth the four junior whips weren't the aggressive ones. They were warning Norman and another of the lead rebels – Nadhim Zahawi – that John Randall was on the warpath. Mr Randall, the normally smooth and popular Deputy Chief Whip, had – it was said – had a few drinks and there was a theatrical suggestion he 'might do an Eric Joyce'. In reality Mr Randall had "blown his top" but was not under any influence*. Norman and Zahawi took the advice, downed their pints and went home.
The second incident is that the PM had one of his Flashman moments and angrily confronted Jesse Norman earlier in the day. My understanding from a secondary source is that Mr Cameron was "testy" but not intimidatory. The PM had objected to a communication that Norman had made to rebel and wavering Tory MPs in which it had been suggested that a rebel vote would be helping the PM (this was Paul Goodman's argument yesterday morning). This had got back to Number 10 and Mr Cameron took his opportunity to make it clear that a rebel vote was absolutely NOT what he wanted. Jesse Norman then wrote another email to colleagues affirming this fact.
That's the truth of things. Not as bad as reported but not a party of happy bunnies either.
* His dark mood should be noted by Mr Clegg. The whips really had tried to quell the rebellion.