A humiliation too far? Cameron picks up the pieces after another Commons mauling
David Cameron was trying to pick up the pieces today, after another massive rebellion from his backbenchers revealed how little authority he has over his parliamentary party.
The prime minister was forced into the extraordinary position of ordering his ministers to abstain on an amendment to government legislation during the Commons debate on the immigration bill last night.
The fact Cameron did not feel he had the authority to make his ministers to oppose the Dominic Raab amendment highlighted how volatile and rebellious the Conservative party continues to be, even under the supposedly iron hand of election strategist Lynton Crosby.
Opposition MPs gleefully mocked the prime minister as he failed to oppose an amendment which the government has admitted was illegal.
Raab's amendment demanded that judges be given the final say over whether deportation violates foreign criminal's right to family life.
It was backed by nearly 100 MPs, many of them Tory, but opposed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, resulting in a government victory of 241 votes to 97 – a majority of 144.
"Why are backbenchers pushing the prime minister? Because we are the ones who are in tune with the wishes of the people who send us to Westminster," Tory MP Julian Lewis said afterwards.
The Commons session came just before YouGov polling for the Sun put Labour ten points ahead of the Tories, with Ed Miliband's party on 42% to the Conservatives' 32%. It comes after a week in which the governing party was within touching of distance of Labour.
Cameron tried to put a brave face on the debate during a joint press conference with the French president this morning.
"What happened yesterday is the immigration bill that people predicted would run into extraordinary trouble in the Commons passed in the state I wanted it to," he said.
Yesterday's vote will have once again painted a picture of a divided Tory party, a weakened prime minister and more battles over Europe on the horizon.
Downing Street will now be thinking about the EU referendum bill currently being killed off by Labour and Liberal Democrat peers in the Lords. If they succeed, his backbenchers will pile on pressure for a government bill.
The European elections, which take place in early summer, are also likely to trigger another outbreak of disunity on the Tory benches.
Many analysts pin the blame for Cameron's struggles on George Osborne's patronage system, which makes career progression reliant on the goodwill of the chancellor rather than the recognition of the whips office.
Others blame the prime minister's aloof and arrogant treatment of his backbenchers. Many Tory MPs seem to genuinely prefer the company of Ed Miliband, who frequently listens to their concerns in the members' tea room.
But yesterday proved a good day for Rabb most of all. He was widely credited with making an informed and sober argument for his amendment and was listened to in the Commons with respect.
Downing Street will be hoping to get him on side before he can act as the ring-leader for future rebellions.