If a vote is called on the government’s aid cut on Monday, it will be very tight for the government. Andrew Mitchell is a former chief whip as well as a former development secretary and it is hard to believe that he would have put this amendment down if he didn’t have the numbers to defeat the government.
This is, in some ways, an odd rebellion. The rebels claim they are not really rebels at all and just trying to uphold the Tory manifesto from the last election. But the size of this rebellion should concern Boris Johnson and the Tory whips. It highlights how many former ministers there now are on the backbenchers who are prepared to defy the government.
Theresa May and the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt are both backing the amendment along with a slew of select committee chairs. Normally, you would expect such figures to be prepared to be persuaded not to rock the boat. But that is harder to do given that Johnson himself voted against three-line whips in various Brexit votes so the normal appeals to loyalty will be unlikely to work with Mrs May and others.
Second, it is a sign of how difficult holding the line on spending is going to be. This cut is unusual in that it is actually popular with voters. But even that hasn’t been enough to prevent a rebellion that looks like it could well be larger than the government’s majority.
The worry for Johnson and the whips is that any reshuffle is going to add to the number of former ministers on the backbenchers. We might be about to see that a majority of 80 isn’t, given the current composition of the Tory parliamentary party, as big as it looks.