A very small minority

At the end of yesterday’s backbench business debate, John Baron, who had put down a motion opposing the use of force against Iran, confessed that he knew he would prove to be ‘in a very small minority’. So it proved. When the House divided, Baron was joined by just one other Conservative, Steve Baker, as well three Labour MPs – Paul Flynn, John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner – along with two Plaid and one SDLP MPs a total of just eight MPs, and that’s including tellers.

In a thinly attended House and on a one-line whip, 285 MPs supported an amendment put down by the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, supporting Coalition policy and calling on ‘all options for addressing the issue [to] remain on the table’, including the use of force.

In this, there’s not much surprise. Europe aside, foreign policy issues have only caused tiny levels of dissent in the three main political parties since 2010 (and, on the Conservative side of the House before that too). In September 2010, just three Coalition MPs (one of whom was John Baron) along with 11 Labour MPs opposed the continued deployment of British troops in Afghanistan. In March 2011, Baron was the only Conservative MP to join 11 Labour MPs in opposing British military action in Libya.

For us, though, the most interesting aspect of the debate was that Speaker Bercow accepted an amendment to a Backbench Business Committee motion. He’s done this before, but he rules out Government MPs putting down amendments during backbench time. Sir Malcolm is no Government stooge, however, and so Bercow readily accepted his amendment.