It was inevitable that the vexed question of Europe would arise at some point, given that there are vast swathes of the UK where the EU and all its doings are as popular as stomach cramps. Why no one foresaw yesterday's situation, and why no one had thought out plans on how to deal with it leaves me with a sinking feeling of incredulity and, frankly, fear. For if the government cannot act to protect itself, how on earth will it ever protect us.
We all know what happened. Cameron invested his own reputation in the debate, his ability to spin and sell, his authority and backed it up with a series of punishments to be meted out to miscreants who failed to vote with his three line whip. And still they ignored him. In vast numbers. 81 Tories voted against the government; it's thought that a further 15 abstained.
Why did they do it? Cameron demands loyalty and respect from his backbenchers. He comes from the kind of privilege that tends to get its way, and he doesn't care to be made to look weak. So there will be retribution. But as the BBC's Nick Robinson explained, these MPs were acting either on deeply held convictions, or from fear that if they defied their constituents (or at least their constituency members) they would not be selected next time round. As for the threats of promotion blocking? Most of them are middle aged men, and they know that any promotions will go to either Liberal Democrats or to Tory women (because Cameron needs to mend fences with female electors and he is under some sort of misapprehension that they way to do this is to promote female MPs). So they are risking little.
Cameron has promised EU reform and the repatriation of powers from Brussels (mostly in the form of employment law), achieved by holding a veto over the head of the €uro block which will almost inevitably move towards closer fiscal union (so that countries like Greece can be held accountable for their finances, and elsewhere even elderly gigolos will have to make an attempt at running their country between
Is he wounded? Yes. Fatally? Doubtful, at least in the immediately future. I expect a lot of anti-Europe rhetoric now. Already responsibility for the mess that we call the British economy has transferred from the last government to the €uro-zone, seamlessly, without touching the Tories. But backbench MPs are politicians too. They can spot flannel at a mile away. Perhaps from today the coalition of two, is now a coalition of three. The Tories, the Liberals and the Other Tories.
One piece of advice for Cameron from Munguin's Republic. If you are looking for an attack dog to take John Humphries to pieces the morning after the night before, don't ever, ever again send wee Govey. He was catastrophic this morning as he stuttered and stammered about being €urosceptic, and the prime minister being erm, €urosceptic and colleagues and ...erm friends in the party, and erm...respect and erm bringing back power, erm, what? ...erm some powers, erm sometime, erm.....
If Cameron was listening he must have been hiding his head in his hands as disaster unfolded on the radio. Tony Blair was scared of Humphries. That should tell you all you need to know.