Yesterday, the Prime Minister had a message for those Conservative MPs who are mulling how to vote in the EU referendum:
“We will all have to reach our own conclusions, and if hon. Members passionately believe in their hearts that Britain is better off outside the EU, they should vote that way. If they think, even on balance, that Britain is better off in the EU, they should go with what they think. Members should not take a view because of what their constituency association might say or because they are worried about a boundary review, or because they think it might be advantageous this way or that way. People should do what is in their heart—if you think it is right for Britain, then do that.”
He is of course correct that MPs must go with their hearts and their consciences on the question. On such a fundamental issue it would be wrong to do otherwise.
But it’s rather odd that, in listing possible influences which may get in the way of MPs voting with their hearts, he mentioned the influence of the grassroots, but neglected to mention the influence of the Conservative Party’s leadership. I haven’t heard of any association officers going round telling MPs they will be deselected if they fail to vote Leave – but there are certainly MPs who harbour fears that their superiors at the top of the Party would take a dim view of them supporting Brexit, and that doing so could therefore have a negative impact on their prospects.
Given that the issue at hand is no less than the question of whether we should democratically control our own country, it is depressing that questions of career advancement should feature in anyone’s calculation of what to do. But for those who are making such a calculation, it would be fair to say they’re more concerned about what the leadership might do to them if they back Leave, rather than the vengeance of eurosceptic Party members if they back Remain.