Gerald Warner: Fags’ revolt makes Eton mess of Cameron’s Tories

David Cameron. Picture: Getty
David Cameron. Picture: Getty
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HUMPTY-DUMPTY had a great fall. This was one Wall Game that Britain’s leading Etonian did not enjoy.

The shiniest face in British public life is heavily coated in egg. Dave sleeps with the fishes. The Heir of Blair is toast. It is a delicious spectacle. Historians mutter of precedents – Lords North, Aberdeen and Palmerston – when a prime minister was defeated in Parliament on a war motion; but no such phenomenon occurred as recently as the 20th century. It was always going to take a very special kind of moronic egomaniac to supply the hubris that would provoke such a nemesis: David Cameron rose to that challenge.

The arguments that were adduced in last week’s debate about a military aggression against Syria are now largely academic, since the aspiring militarists have been disarmed. Yet the inadequacy of the government’s case was startling. The talk was of “judgments” and “high likelihoods”. All that was missing was Dave sexing up his dodgy dossier by describing the intelligence as “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. In every other respect he followed the Blair template. By universal consent, the elephant in the Commons chamber was Iraq. This was aggravated by a personal intervention by the Great Charlatan himself. Like some latter-day Old Man of the Mountain mandating violence, Tony Blair voiced his support for military intervention in Syria (“Peace Envoy Urges War”), in a fatwah issued from the luxury yacht on which he was currently junketing.

When the dust had settled on Thursday night and the Downing Street rescue party had pulled Dave out from under the wreckage of his political career, one Cabinet minister was heard to mutter dazedly: “How did we manage to bring Ed Miliband back from the dead?” Coming from someone in deep political trauma, that was quite an insightful question, since it recognised that the Labour leader (for want of a more realistic term) had not accomplished his own resurrection – he had been resuscitated by the dysfunctional Conservative Party. Miliband’s own amendment was defeated by 114 votes. Ironically, that was really what did for Dave. If the government motion had been defeated, but the Labour amendment passed, that would have kept the Syrian intervention still in play, albeit on a slower timetable.

Ed Miliband was no more in control of events last week than was Cameron. Posturing about not ruling out a military strike, he lost the opportunity to position Labour as the peace party, leaving Nigel Farage unchallenged in claiming that moral high ground for Ukip. Last week was good for Ukip; not only will Dave’s meltdown accelerate the defection of Tories to Farage, but disillusioned Liberal Democrats, who have been moving to Ukip in surprisingly, even illogically, high numbers, will also be attracted to the fourth party.

What happened last Thursday was not a Machiavellian political ambush: it was the belated revolt of the doomed Tory Party against its destroyer. Cameron failed to secure the support of 63 Conservative MPs – in a vote on war. One in five Tory members sat this one out, 30 voted against Cameron. They included even members of the notorious “payroll vote”. That so many aspiring junior ministers should have joined the rebellion, on the eve of a reshuffle, speaks volumes. It means they recognise that after 2015 – at the latest – Cameron will no longer be in a position to extend patronage. Dave is not so much a lame-duck premier as a legless one.

America has already absorbed the lesson: Dave has lost his party, he can deliver nothing, he is yesterday’s man. It was notable he did not call Barack Obama after his defeat. His hopes of securing even cosmetic “concessions” from the European Union to appease his MPs – though not the electorate – are sunk. He scarcely bothered to court his backbenchers: Labour had enabled him to bulldoze through homosexual marriage, which was supported only by a minority of Conservative MPs: it would do the same for him on Syria. It was not only Dave who was served notice to quit last week, but the whole “modernising” clique, the Entitled Ones, who for years have betrayed Tory principles and despised party activists as “swivel-eyed loons”.

Last week the fags rebelled, cheeked the prefects and held Flashman’s feet to the fire. If they had done so earlier, the Conservative Party might not have been condemned to annihilation in 2015. It is too late now; the activists have gone to Ukip, the vote is crumbling. In 2010 Ukip deprived Dave of 21 seats, which would have furnished his majority; Farage’s party then polled 3 per cent. Does anyone seriously imagine it will poll less than 6 per cent in 2015? Dave is politically dead and he has taken his party with him to the grave. «

Twitter: @GeraldWarner1