The dynamics of John Baron’s amendment to the Defence Reform Bill are proving quite interesting.
Having been stung by Baron initiatives in the past, the Government have certainly been taking it very seriously. I’m told that over the last two days even Cabinet Ministers have been instructed to attend the vote, which suggests credence being given in some parts to the idea that the rebellion could prove quite large.
This was followed by the remarkably strongly worded attacks on the amendment launched by the Secretary of State and even the Head of the Army which were widely reported this morning. I’m not sure that this approach will have done a lot of good – it’s hard to cast Baron himself, a former Army officer, as someone who would willingly destabilise or demoralise the Armed Forces.
Having tried the bad cop approach, Philip Hammond has now moved on to good cop, offering the concession of an annual report to MPs on the state of the Army Reserves.
Watching the Commons debate at the moment, the rebellion seems to be waning. James Gray, who had signed the Baron amendment, has just said he will now not be voting for it, which may be a clue to the movement of travel among the would-be rebels.
The amendment now looks less likely to pass, but perhaps that wasn’t its intention. Several speakers have mentioned the importance of raising the Armed Forces and the Reserves up the list of the Government’s priorities – they’ve certainly done that.
Mr Baron has made a reputation for himself as someone who can cannily target an amendment, and then successfully drum up support for it among his colleagues, in such a way as to reliably cause a cold sweat to break out in the Whips’ Office. That’s quite an achievement – which he could use in all sorts of ways that Ministers wouldn’t like to imagine.