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By Paul Goodman
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I wrote earllier this week in my guide to help you through the Lords Bill spin war:

  • "Watch what happens with the Programme Motion.  …If one isn't tabled at all, it means the Whips believe they wouldn't have won one – at least now.  They may wait and table one later, after Tory MPs are growing tired of interminable debate on the bill. But watch for a blame game to begin if the motion falls or is delayed.  (By the way, keep an eye out for Labour pro-reform diehards voting for the Programme.)  The Whips may timetable debate for weekends.  They will threaten to make the House sit during the summer recess.  Most likely, they will make it sit late on a Thursday, wrecking backbenchers' constituency diaries for the next day, and causing them deliberate local embarrassment by doing so.  The aim of such manoevres is to make backbench MPs blame the rebels for forcing extra sittings on the Government.  The response of the rebels will be to move closure motions to make it clear that they're not to blame."

Paul Waugh on Politics Home (£) now writes that the Programme motion has indeed been withdrawn.  Three quick points.

  • As I wrote this morning, it was evident from yesterday's debate that the tide was with the rebels.  Conservative MPs will increasingly have been unsure what David Cameron and the whips really wanted them to do had there been a vote.  As I pointed out this morning, the best way of helping Mr Cameron would have been to vote against the programme, and James Forsyth reports that there seems to have been a move among Tory MPs precisely to this end.
  • The withdrawal of the programme motion is bad for the Government's authority in general, and therefore for Mr Cameron – and, especially, for Nick Clegg.
  • However, the aim of the Liberal Democrats, as described above, will be to see Mr Cameron and the Tory Whips make life so difficult for their backbenchers by timetabling debate through nights or at weekends that the latter fold and eventually vote for a programme motion.  As I say above, the "Sensibles" will now be preparing their own tactics – including the use of closure motions.

The Bill will get its Second Reading later today, since Labour will vote for it.  We will provide a list of Tory rebels as soon as we can.

And then off it trundles into the wilderness of untimetabled debate…

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