Dominic Raab is one of the most impressive members of the Tory back benches, able to pick a string of good fights and – even rarer – able to win them. He’s a black belt and seems to regard politics as karate by other means. He’s a 3rd Dan in fighting and a 10th Dan in rebellion. But his latest victory – forcing the government into a humiliating climbdown over deporting foreign prisoners – was one too far. Thanks to Labour votes, his amendment failed so all he really achieved was embarrassing the Home Secretary. Yes, Raab can fight. Yes, he can win. But in my Daily Telegraph column today, I suggest it’s time for him (and other rebels) to stop.
Raab was clear, calm and articulate in arguing that foreign prisoners should be stopped from fighting deporation using spurious human rights claims. The government was a mess, first giving him a wink of encouragement only to declare his idea unworkable at he last moment. No10 didn’t agree with the Home Office. Both declared his proposal illegal, but couldn’t vote against it. The government’s weakness, and the paucity of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary authority, was exposed for all to see.
As a journalist, I’m for all this. It’s hilarious. But I can’t see how all of this is in the interests of Tory Eurosceptics. God knows that David Cameron has mishandled relations with his party, and was doing so long before he became Prime Minister. He has stripped the Whips Office of its authority, which means they have no more stick to put about. No10 responds quickly and regularly to pressure, as if in a constant panic. This, of course, invites pressure, especially in a Eurosceptic cause. But what’s happening now looks less like strategy and more like the political equivalent of happy slapping.