By Mark Wallace
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James Wharton, the MP who is bringing forward the Private Member's Bill for an In/Out EU referendum, just tweeted a letter he has received from the Prime MInister. It's interesting, as much for what isn't included as for what is:
I wanted to drop you a line to thank you very much for all your hard work last night during the first stages of the European Union (Referendum) Bill Committee.
I know that the Committee was incredibly frustrating with Labour attemption to filibuster your Bill. They should know better that Conservatives will not can into these sort of tactics – especially with such important legislation. You did a terrific job seeing this through and I am hugely grateful for your persistence and dedication.
Well done, and keep up the great work!
We will get there…keep going!
It is only right and proper that James is given credit for his efforts – he has done an excellent job so far in steering his Bill through waters that threatened to be quite choppy. The letter is symptomatic of Downing Streets newfound enthusiasm for building bridges with the backbenches.
The PM is also right to highlight and lambast Labour's dishonest attempts to filibuster the Bill, despite their failure to even turn up to vote on it in the Commons. But they weren't the only filibusterers on Committee night. As Wharton recounted on this very site, the Lib Dems were up to exactly the same tricks, and yet are notably absent from the letter.
On Coalition policy disagreements, ministers (mostly) manage to carry out their disagreements in private – and rightly so, given collective Cabinet responsibility. But there is surely no need to spare the Lib Dems' blushes on a matter of party, rather than government, policy.
As today's ConHome readers' poll shows, party members are committed to the Coalition in order to do the right thing for the country. Solidarity with our partners on government matters is part of what is necessary to get that job done – but it is worth questioning how far into party business that should extend.
Lib Dem backbenchers behaved disreputably in trying to undermine Wharton's referendum, and their party leadership continues to oppose a policy which they once proposed. For reasons of principle and politics they should be held to account for their attempts to stop the electorate getting to decide our nation's future.