Peter Hoskin

Deciding on a referendum

Deciding on a referendum
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The big Parliamentary event of the day is undoubtedly the vote on whether to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The outcome's expected at about 1900 this evening.

It should mark another chapter in Nick Clegg's turbulent start as Lib Dem leader. His call for an in-or-out referendum was trampled on yesterday – 68 MPs supported it, 471 voted against it. And today he wants his fellow party-members to abstain from the voting. He's even put them on a three-line whip.

If Lib Dems rebel en masse, then Clegg's grip on the party could be irreparably undermined. On the other side of the same coin, a smaller number might make him feel vindicated. At the moment, around 3 Lib Dem front-benchers – and 12 Lib Dem MPs overall – are expected to go against the party leadership. That's about a fifth of the party.

Much may depend on how Clegg deals with the rebels – although I suspect it's a no-win situation for the Lib Dem leader. Sacking front-bench rebels for upholding a manifesto commitment will hardly play well. But a failure to impose any punishment may just leave Clegg looking weaker than ever.

Despite the challenges facing him, Clegg's unbowed. He fought his corner on the Today Programme this morning. No real surprises. Although he did call Ian Davidson's proposed amendment “a complete distraction ... an utter red herring”. Funny, that...

P.S. Today also had a good exchange between David Miliband and William Hague at 08:10.